Born and raised in west London, Wakeman intended on being a concert pianist but quit his studies at the Royal College of Music in 1969 to become a full time session musician. His early sessions included playing on "Space Oddity", among others, for David Bowie and songs by Junior's Eyes, T. Rex, Elton John, and Cat Stevens. Wakeman became a member of Strawbs in 1970 before joining Yes a year later, becoming part of the band's "classic" line-up and playing on some of their most successful and influential albums across two stints until 1980.
Although the piano part on the final recording is played by Rick Wakeman (soon to become the Rick Wakeman of Yes fame), the song was written during a protracted spell of songwriting at the piano by David, trying out various chord inversions.
This intense focus would yield not only “Life on Mars?” but also “Changes,” as David would later recall on his website: “I played my plodding version and Rick wrote the chords down, then played them with his inimitable touch.”