David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released June, 1972
David Bowie is genius, and I will more than happily argue with anyone who says otherwise. Bowie was born David Jones, but changed it in the mid 1960s, after American frontiersman Jim Bowie. If I had a name like David Jones, I’d change it too, but he did it to avoid confusion with Davy Jones from the Monkees. Bowie was introduced to jazz legends like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane at a young age, and started playing saxophone on a cheap plastic alto sax (how often have we heard that?). He moved on to playing guitar in a local band called the Konrads, where he made the decision to become a pop star. Sadly, the other members didn’t share the same aspirations, and Bowie left and joined the King Bees, where he signed his first management deal. His first single Liza Jane was realised with zero success. I know. Once, even David Bowie was a failure. He became disenchanted with the band’s repertoire of Howlin’ Wolf and other blues covers, so he left and joined the Manish Boys with hopes of becoming “their Mick Jagger”. Nope. That band’s single failed as hard as the first, so he moved on AGAIN, joining The Who inspired, blues rock band The Lower Third. They released a single and guess what? No good. This was the last straw for his management, who gave up on him. Bad move. He signed with a new manager, and a new band with another failed single.
It was at this point he changed his name and went solo, with yet another manager. He released his debut single and self titled album, both which, you guessed it, bombed. Due to all his failures, Bowie wasn’t making a living from music and was forced to find other incomes. It wasn’t until he was making a film intended to promote his work (that wouldn’t be released until the mid-80s) featured his first commercial hit. ‘Space Oddity’ was released five days before the launch of Apollo 11, and that launched ‘Space Oddity’ to a UK Top Five hit. The album of the same name was finally a success, and Bowie put together a full time band for touring and recording, featuring Mick Ronson on guitar.
The band sessions resulted in the recording of “The Man Who Sold The World” in 1970, and it sent Bowie on a promotional tour of the US, where they had no idea what to make of this androgynous pop star. It was here he developed the character of Ziggy Stardust, designed to look “like he’s landed from Mars”. “Hunky Dory” was released following the tour, though not to huge success. But it was a stepping stone to the reason we’re here. “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”. ‘Starman’ was the single released from “Ziggy”, and both the album and single heralded Bowie’s UK breakthrough. And rightly so, what a ripper.
“Ziggy” opens with ‘Five Years’, a classic Bowie track about the world after learning of its destruction in five years. A suitably dramatic track, which I can’t believe is not more popular. I found it quite interesting that Lady Stardust was about Marc Bolan, T-Rex frontman who also played session guitar for Bowie before the Spiders. The original title was He Was Alright (A Song For Marc). It features some lovely Pianoing, played by Bowie himself. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is one of my favourite songs of all time. The lead guitar riff sticks in my head like glue, and the bass rolls on beautifully in the background. One of my favourite things about Bowie is his lyric writing, and “Ziggy” features some classics. “Screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan” and “making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind” are up there with my favourite Bowie lines. The track blends perfectly into the driving guitar intro of ‘Suffragette City’. It’s fast paced heavy rock is a long way from the folky sounds of ‘Space Oddity’, and it does rock beautifully. There’s a very 50s inspired piano line and the horns make a very big sound. It sounds a bit dumb, but I love the way the track just finishes, with a cold cut. 100 to zero in no seconds.
I can’t say enough about David Bowie. He’s one of my heroes, and “Ziggy Stardust” is one of my favouritest albums ever. The perfect mix of folk rand heavy rock. Everyone should own this album.
I was a David Bowie fan before I even knew I was; as a kid I was a huge fan of the cult fantasy film ‘Labyrinth’, a movie for which Bowie wrote the songs, and in which he also starred. As a general rule. Bowie’s music is complex and all of his songs tell a complex story. True to form, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (often abbreviated to “Ziggy Stardust”) was more than an average album, for Bowie it was art, from its inception it was intended to be played out as somewhat of a rock opera, to tell the tale of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star sent to Earth to teach the people a message of hope in the 5 years leading to world’s end. Track 4, ‘Starman’, probably the most upbeat and hopeful songs on the album, is one of my favourite Bowie songs ever. ‘Star’ was enjoyable, I particularly rated the piano parts, the riffs are very catchy. ‘Hang on to yourself is also quite alright’, the tempo is super fast, giving it a feeling of forward motion and leaves you feeling like you have been left behind while Bowie charges ahead into the horizon, at the end of the song. Of course, the title track ‘Ziggy Stardust’, the ode to the main protagonist of the story, is an undying classic, instantly recognisable with its electric guitar intro, and also a favourite of mine. For me, some of the songs on “Ziggy Stardust” are a little bland and didn’t catch my interest, especially when listened to in isolation of the rest of the album. But as a whole, the album was ridiculously ambitious as Bowie’s second album, and most definitely a masterpiece that would have been truly incredible witnessed live on stage. Definitely worthy of future listens.
Concept albums are a strange beast. Some work better than others, and some require a little research or lyric studying to fully understand the story. This one falls somewhere in between the two extremes. Opening with my album highlight ‘Five Years’, we are presented with an Earth that has only five years left to exist. The loose story line tells of an alien landing here to save us all with rock and roll. Only in the seventies, huh? While artists like Lou Reed and Roxy Music were dipping into the pool of glam rock, Bowie went for the cannonball and almost solely defined the genre. Resonating among the youth of the day who were struggling with their own sexual identity, and um, fashion sense, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust was embraced the world over. Catchy tracks like ‘Starman’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’ help buoy this album above the glam rock label and are just as vibrant today as they must have sounded over forty years ago. I love the mournful tone of ‘Lady Stardust’ and anthemic closer ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. The Zappa-esque horns in the instrumental section of ‘Moonage Daydream’ coupled with Mick Ronson’s soaring lead guitar make the song a true classic. The iconic title track is one of the best chorus-less songs you’ll ever hear as the plight of Ziggy is revealed. The deliberately slower pace of the track gives it a gravitas, confidently making it the focal point of the record. I feel that this album does stumble in a few spots, namely ‘Suffragette City’ and the cover of Ron Davies’ ‘It Ain’t Easy’. If the best tracks from this record and 1973’s follow-up ‘Aladdin Sane’ were put together, you’d have an absolute cracker. The influence this record, concept and alter-ego have had on popular music cannot be underestimated. “Ziggy played…guitarrrrrr!”
Other than the singles that are embedded in pop culture, I was not all that familiar with David Bowie coming into this week. Well other than that codpiece in the film Labyrinth, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself. A little bit of research before my first listen to “Ziggy Stardust” had me worried. An alien rockstar from Mars that comes to Earth only to discover there are only five years before the end of Earth, peppered throughout with drugs and sex? Okay then. Like previous afyccim concept album “Tommy” by The Who, this album is actually quite sparse when it comes to the instruments used, but by god are they gloriously put to good effect. There is something very warming and genuine about “Ziggy Stardust”, despite the ludicrous storyline and theatrics. This I believe is purely down to the genius of Bowie. Whereas “Tommy” felt lyrically like Townsend was trying to create an epic and clever story, with “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie isn’t so much trying to be a weird character, he just is a weird character. It would be very easy to label the whole thing pretentious, from the story to the theatrical way Bowie brought the character to life, but at no time does it ever feel that way. In creating “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie not only cemented himself as a certified superstar, he also redefined the grounds for what music could be. This album is a classic because despite of all the fanfare, at the crux of it this is a collection of really well written rock/pop songs. In creating the character of Ziggy, Bowie appealed to a generation that felt like they didn’t fit into the norm. These two things combined, despite the ridiculous lyrics, are what make this album worthy of all of the acclaim heaped upon it. I became quite the David Bowie fan this week. I can’t fault anything about this album.