“Cocaine is a hell of a drug.”
—Rick James

“I’d found a soul-mate in that drug.”
—David Bowie

Chris O’ Leary sums up “Like a Rocket Man” — a decidedly minor yet rather fascinating song from the Next Day sessions — thusly:

The title’s a dig at an Elton John single Bowie had groused about being a “Space Oddity” ripoff from the day it charted; the verse melody is a near-actionable steal of the Beatles’ “Help“; the lyric references (again) the Kinks’ “Days,” while much of it’s a brutal recollection of what it was like to be a cocaine addict in the mid-Seventies.

As in “Fascination,” Bowie personifies cocaine1(quite literally: “Little Wendy Cocaine”) as the consuming passion of his life in the Young Americans/Station to Station years.

He does so with “a deceptively bouncy beat,” as Tony Visconti pointed out, adding, “but lyrically it goes to more dark places, and this time David sings it with a cheeky smile.” And indeed, lyrics like these would hit differently in a different musical context; imagine what The Wall–era Pink Floyd might have done with them:

She sells and moves and finds my hand
And pulls me down and close so I can hardly stand
As I lay like dead for her, I’m fed into my head I’m led, oh, I am sand
I’m crawling from the window, crawling down the wall
I’m happy screaming, yes, I am
I’m jumping on her daisy chain
I’m speeding through the dancehall like a rocket man

Now I wish today that yesterday was just tomorrow and
I could squeeze her grabby hand
Knowing that I never paid her for a gram

She’s a drunken doxy off her trolly
Sent before her time into this poxy world
She’s not fit for anything but dealing it
While heaven sings, I have this girl
She’s got me eating rice and beans
I have no shape nor color, I’m god’s lonely man
I don’t want to die but I don’t want to live
I’m speeding like a rocket man

But Bowie chose to undercut his weighty subject matter with a lighter-than-air ambiance; “Like a Rocket Man” belies its title by seeming in no particular hurry, yet is over before you know it.

This video is pretty minor too — just “Random The Next Day & TMWFTE [The Man Who Fell to Earth] images thrown together,“ as the poster freely admits.2But it’ll do for now. File this one under “Songs that only David Bowie could or would have written; and who knows why he did; but he did, and he was David Bowie, and therefore it’s worth three and a half minutes of our attention.”