Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Peter Schilling -- "Major Tom" (1983)

Earth below us
Drifting falling
Floating weightless
Calling, calling home

Major Tom is a fictional astronaut who was the hero of David Bowie's breakthrough 1969 single, "Space Oddity":

Ground control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on

Major Tom subsequently appeared not only in a couple of other David Bowie songs, but in songs by several other recording artists.

Other than "Space Oddity," the best-known Major Tom song is Peter Schilling's 1983 "Major Tom (Coming Home)," which was a #1 or #2 hit in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland.  "Major Tom" made it to #14 on the U.S. Billboard "Hot 100" chart.

Schilling, who is from Stuttgart, originally recorded the song in German, and then recorded it in English.  Schilling released remixed versions of the song in 1994, 2000, and 2003.

Over a dozen others recorded covers of "Major Tom," including our old friend Plastic Bertrand and the Shiny Toy Guns, whose version was featured in a Lincoln MKZ commercial:  

There's a contemporaneous Lincoln commercial featuring Cat Power's cover of "Space Oddity":

William Shatner recorded both "Space Oddity" and "Major Tom" on his 2011 album, Seeking Major Tom, which featured Sheryl Crow, Peter Frampton, Johnny Winter, Brad Paisley, and Bootsy Collins (among others):

The version of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" that inspired this 2 or 3 lines was a pseudo-karaoke version performed by a character on the Breaking Bad television series.  

I've been watching Breaking Bad on DVD (shoutout to my local public library!) and saw the episode with "Major Tom" -- season four, episode four -- while I was visiting my parents in Joplin, Missouri recently.

The character who sings the karaoke "Major Tom" is Gale Boetticher (portrayed by David Costabile), a quirky chemist who assists the show's protagonist manufacture crystal meth before being murdered.

Gale is a sweet, lonely guy who reads science fiction and books about Eastern philosophy, sings along (in Italian) with opera recordings, and uses his chemist's skills to make perfect coffee:

Gale Boetticher making coffee
After he is murdered, the police discover a DVD of him singing "Major Tom" that was apparently recorded at a karaoke bar in Thailand.  (The DVD has Thai subtitles.) 

Here's Gale's version of "Major Tom":

You aficionados of old movies will have already guessed that Gale Boetticher was named after cult director Budd Boetticher, who is remembered mostly for the series of low-budget Westerns starring Randolph Scott that he directed in the late 1950s.

Here's a trailer for The Tall T, one of those Boetticher-Scott westerns:

Here's the English version of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)":

Click below to buy a karaoke version of the song from Amazon:

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