I’ve heard this in several contexts over the past few weeks, referenced in various documentaries and followed up using YouTube. Of course I remember the song from the 1970s. Turns out before he wrote this David Bowie was asked to set some lyrics to a French tune, which he did, but the eventual words used came from Paul Anka, who turned it into “My Way” (the full story and details are on Wikipedia). When he heard “My Way” Bowie decided he would write his own song in response as a kind of parody. One of the documentaries I heard – “Bowie’s Heroes” on BBC Radio 6, featured Rick Wakeman, who said that Bowie played him the song on guitar and asked him to arrange the piano part – and the whole of the Hunky Dory album is focused around the piano sound. On YouTube there’s a recording of a Wakeman recital where he plays his version of “Life on Mars” as a solo piano piece. Then I heard another documentary, on Mick Ronson, talking about how the string arrangement of the song was Ronson’s first for Bowie – he had some orchestration lessons from his grandma in Hull, apparently. The song has a tremendously grand sweep. No idea what the lyrics mean – other than the general concept that there must be a better life elsewhere – but they fit with the song perfectly. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, is getting great reviews – must listen.