There aren’t too many characters born of popular music lyrics that have, not just inspired, but become the title of another popular music hit. The David Bowie lyrical creation of Major Tom became one such character, when in 1983 German singer Peter Schilling paid homage to Bowie’s iconic tragic hero in the top 20 hit ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’.
During his high school years, Stuttgart born Peter Schilling was faced with a difficult choice. A gifted athlete, Schilling was offered the chance at age 14 to sign with German football (soccer) club Stuttgart VFB, with a view of pursuing a professional career as a league footballer. The dilemma was created by the fact that Schilling was also a talented singer/songwriter and had already come to the attention of record company scouts, who wanted to groom the teenager as the next pop music sensation.
He had released several low key singles in the late 70s/early 80s under the name Pierre Schilling, before in 1982 Peter Schilling finally released his debut album titled ‘Fehler Im System’ (Ge#1) or ‘Error In The System’ (US#61). Schilling took the more commercial elements of Kraftwerk and fused them with contemporary synth pop acts like Visage and Ultravox. The stand out track was ‘Major Tom (Vollig Losgelot)’ or ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’, directly inspired by David Bowie’s lyrical character of the same name, featured in Bowie’s original 1969 ‘Space Oddity’ and revisited in 1980’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’. The German language version reached #1 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and was a top 10 hit in the Netherlands, France and Italy. Schilling re-recorded an English language version of the song for the U.S. and British markets. The promotional video became a favourite on MTV and by September 1983 ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ had found a new home on the U.S. Hot 100 chart. The song eventually peaked at #14 in the U.S., #57 in Australia (spending 19 weeks inside the top 100), #42 in Canada, and a few months later #42 in Britain. Even the great David Bowie would have taken pride in the Major’s latest achievements in song.
Schilling managed to follow up his initial success in parts of Europe, with his second single ‘Die Wuste Lebt’ (loosely translated to ‘That Squanders Lives’), which reached the top 10 in several countries. In 1984 he released his sophomore album ‘120 Grads’ (‘120 Degrees’), which was later released in an English language version titled ‘Things To Come’ in 1985. ‘120 Grads’ yielded the European hits ‘Hitze Der Nacht’ (‘Heat Of The Night’) and ‘Terra Titanic’, but neither translated to success in English speaking markets.
Over the next few years Schilling released a number of stand alone singles, the most well received of which was 1987’s ‘Ich Vermisse Dich’ (‘I Miss You’), which again reached the top 40 in several European markets. Schilling then moved base to New York City in the late 80s looking to reinvent his sound, and reinvigorate his flagging music career. The move realised the 1989 album ‘The Different Story (World Of Lust And Crime)’, which featured the hit single title track (#10 Sweden, #61 U.S.). The English language album wasn’t released in Schilling’s homeland until 1992. It included several remixed versions of old hits and several new tracks, including a collaboration with Enigma’s Michael Cretu on the hit title track.
Schilling did a ’Major Tom’, coming home to Germany in the early 90s to release the album ‘Gehaime Macht’ (‘Confidential Power’) in 1993. Several singles, including ‘Bild Der Dunkelheit’ failed to recapture Schilling’s chart success of a decade earlier, though 1994’s ‘Sonne, Mond Und Sterne’ (‘The Sun, Moon And Stars’) performed well in Germany. 1994 also saw Schilling release a remixed dance-club version of ‘Major Tom’, credited to himself and Bomm-Bastic. The techo-edged remix was a hit on the dance floor and returned Schilling to the German charts (#29).
In 1995 Schilling tried his hand at a collaborative enterprise when he formed the Space Pilots with Catyana Schilling (his wife), J. Feifel, and P. Magnet. They only recorded one single though, titled ‘Trip To Orion’. The song was apparently based on, and included vocal samples from, the German science fiction TV show ‘Raumpatrouille Orion’. Schilling was relatively quiet during the remainder of the 1990s, with his only album release being a ‘Best Of’ in 1999.
The break must have revitalised Schilling as the 00s have proven every bit as prolific, in terms of creative output, as the 80s. He was now a more rounded artist, involved in all aspects of the creative process, including producing/arranging and at times playing all the instruments. With his own recording studio at his disposal, Schilling also enjoyed a freedom not afforded him during his early career. 2003’s ‘Raumnot - 6 vs. 6’ (or ‘Shortage Of Space - 6 vs. 6’), again saw Schilling combining some contemporary remixes of his previous hits, with new tracks. In 2004 the album ‘Zeitsprung’ (‘Time Jump’) reflected an artist willing to embrace new styles and form in his music.
Schilling has also found time to publish two books on personal health and development, in between releasing a further two albums during 2006/2007. The one time aspiring league footballer also revisits his passion for ‘the world game’ on occasion, through his involvement in numerous charity matches with ex-professionals and other celebrities.
Like Major Tom before him, for Peter Schilling the “count goes on”.