Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Major Tom (Coming Home)" by Peter Schilling

One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  1623
Date:  09/24/1983
Debut:  89
Peak:  14
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Germany's Peter Schilling encountered the same crossroad that Rod Stewart also happened upon. As young men, both were deciding on whether they should become football (soccer) players or musicians. For both, the answer became music. Stewart would have massive worldwide success while Schilling's popularity was more localized. The one exception was this single taken from his English-language debut album Error in the System. The LP was originally recorded in German in 1982 as Fehler im System and released in that country. The single "Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" became a #1 hit in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Its success spurred Schilling to record a version of it in English, which he did along with an English version of the album. The single and MTV video gained popularity in the US and eventually the song would reach the Pop Top 20. It would also be a hit at Dance (#2) and Rock (#8). Unfortunately, despite one other lower-charting single later in 1988, Schilling would not be able to significantly follow up the song and ended up getting tagged as a one-hit wonder in the US.

ReduxReview:  I was all over this song when it came out. I loved that cold, synth-driven Europop sound. It fit perfect with the eerie lyrics. I'm not sure what possessed Schilling to usurp another artist's character and story for his own tune (see below), but I'm glad he did. I was fascinated with the retelling and the song's arrangement. Although this would end up being Schilling's only major hit, it was a terrific and memorable one.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Although the music and lyrics are Schilling's original work, the song does have its roots in another famous composition. David Bowie's 1969 song "Space Oddity" was the first to explore the plight of Major Tom, an astronaut who after a successful launch into space encounters issues that seem to spell certain doom. Schilling's version basically retells the story with a few additions such as folks on Earth mourning Major Tom's death and not knowing he is actually still alive drifting around in space. Bowie's song was his first to hit #1 in the UK and his first to chart in the US. It reached #15. Schilling's version was pretty much ignored in the UK (#42), but it was able to get one notch higher than Bowie's original in the US. Bowie would revisit the Major Tom character a couple more times in his career. Both 1980's "Ashes to Ashes" (#1 UK) and 1995's "Hallo Spaceboy" contained references to the doomed astronaut.


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