Summer of 1969: ‘Space Oddity’ Turns 50

"Ground control to Major Tom" rang out on radios in the summer of 1969, and the iconic "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, has an interesting history. One of the more curious facts about the song is its relationship to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. Although the song's subject matter is rather bleak—it's about an astronaut who becomes stranded in space—the record label was keen on harnessing some of the enthusiasm for the Apollo launch and planned the release of the song around that time. In a somewhat surreal scene, BBC then played the tune during its Apollo coverage. "Space Oddity" was the start of a body of work by Bowie centered on space and sci-fi, which Pitchfork explored in depth a few years ago.

If you're curious to learn more about the moon landing, there are a slew of new books and films. We recommend picking up Shoot for the Moon or viewing Apollo 11.

What else transpired during the historic and chaotic summer of 1969?

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, LGBTQ folks started what would be known as the Stonewall riots after a police raid June 28, 1969 on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. For a comprehensive look at the Stonewall riots, which many consider the start of the gay rights movement in the United States, pick up Stonewall. (Find more recommendations on our Stonewall Riots 50th Anniversary booklist.)

It was also the summer of the Woodstock Music Festival. In August, more than 400,000 music fans descended on Bethel, N.Y., for three days of peace and music. Check out footage and the music of the festival in Woodstock or just the music on Woodstock.

On a much darker note, the Manson murders took place in the summer of 1969. Members of the "Manson family," a cult headed by Charles Manson, committed a series of grisly murders over two days, allegedly ordered by Manson, that became known as "Tate-LaBianca Murders," which continue to fascinate. The Manson murders have been explored by many, but the classic Helter Skelter: The True Story Of The Manson Murders remains popular.

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