“The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”: David Bowie’s breakthrough masterpiece

The influential 1972 album gave birth to one of Rock’s most enduring characters

“The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”: David Bowie’s breakthrough masterpiece

It is one of Rock’s strongest characters, the most famous alter-ego created by David Bowie, and it was first presented to the world on June 16, 1972, Ziggy Stardust, the “the ultimate pop idol” born on Bowie’s breakthrough album “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”. It’s impossible to speak only about the music on the album without exploring the whole concept behind the creation of Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous bisexual rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings, according to Bowie, “a real compilation of things”.

Meet Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars

Among the many personas that helped developing the character were Vince Taylor, a British rock ‘n’ roll singer whom David Bowie met after Taylor had had a breakdown and believed himself to be a cross between a god and an alien, the American psychobilly performer Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan and Lou Reed among others. Ziggy explored themes of sexual exploration and social taboos through music and visual, a path that Bowie would follow throughout most of his career. By 1972, Bowie had already developed an androgynous appearance, which got mixed reactions from audiences but it was praised by critics. Shortly before the album was released he proudly announced to the world he was gay in an interview with British newspaper Melody Maker, that marked the beginning of an ambiguity surrounding Bowie’s sexuality that lasts to this day and the countdown to Ziggy’s unleash. And indeed, the unleashing was magnificent. After 4 studio albums and several singles, Bowie finally became a superstar, the commercial flops of his first three albums were briefly soothed by the 1971 “Hunky Dory”, which for the first time gave Bowie a worldwide audience with songs such as “Changes”, “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Life On Mars” and “Kooks”. But still, Bowie struggled to find his place in the competitive early 1970’s music industry. At the time, his most successful song had been the 1969 “Space Oddity”, for the first time he flirted with the outer space and the universe, a theme that would forever be associated with his music. It isn’t sure that song was one of the catalysts for the creation of Ziggy Stardust, in a way, “Life On Mars” can be a much more fair precedent to Ziggy. The Ziggy Stardust mythology, his story, is told through the songs on “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, by Bowie and his most famous back up band, The Spiders From Mars that featured Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, and Mick Woodmansey on drums, the same band who worked and helped to develop the previous albums “The Man Who Sold The World” and “Hunky Dory”, only this time, they were a part of Ziggy’s history, not only a mere back up band.

The Songs

The lose concept album, opens up with the amazing “Five Years”, the tale of a condemned planet Earth that is doomed to destruction in five years, but then, it’s saved by Rock N’ Roll messiah Ziggy Stardust, the alien that conquers the hearts of teenagers and seduces everyone in his path, eventually dying a victim of his own fame. It moves on to “Soul Love”, where Ziggy begins to conquer the listener, a quiet and involving song, the third song is “Moonage Daydream”, originally released as a single by Bowie’s band Arnold Corns in 1971,the song was re-recorded for the album and, on Ziggy’s mythology or story arc, is one of the most important songs as it describes the creation of Ziggy Stardust from a combination of religion, romance, sexual freedom, rebellion until he metamorphoses into the perfect Pop idol and Rock star. The music it’s sometimes Psychedelic, sometimes Hard Rock and features one of the best Mick Ronson’s solos in the album. It is a top pick. We move on to “Starman”, one of the most popular and iconic songs of the album, a Rock and Glam Rock classic that has no equal, one of David Bowie’s signature songs. The Glam Rock ballad, tells a story from the point of view of one of Ziggy’s fans and according to Bowie himself during an interview for Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, “Ziggy Stardust is not the Starman but merely his earthly messenger”. “Starman” was Bowie’s most successful single release at the time since “Space Oddity” and remains one of his most well known songs. Bowie decided to cover the 1970 Blues Rock song “It Ain’t Easy”, originally by Ron Davies, to close the side 1 of the album. The song, which by then had already been covered by Long John Baldry and Three Dog Night it’s the most bluesy that can be found on “Ziggy Stardust”, it’s curious the decision of Bowie including this specific blues-rock cover on the tracklist as Bowie was never really a blues or blues rock songwriter or composer. Side 2 opens with the beautiful ballad “Lady Stardust”, originally called “He Was Alright (A Song for Marc)”, writen for the Glam Rock icon T.Rex’s Marc Bolan and Bowie’s friend, and also one of the inspirations for the Ziggy Stardust character creation. “Star” it’s a boogie Glam rock, upbeat and catchy, Ziggy’s metamorphosis into a Rock star. “Hang On to Yourself” it’s another song that was first released by Bowie as a single, through his band Arnold Corns in 1971, the re-recorded version for the album it’s a crossover between Glam Rock, Rockabilly and Proto-Punk, fast, heavy. A little over two minutes long, “Hang On To Yourself” it’s one of the most influential Proto Punk songs ever, the main riff it’s reminiscent of the formula later used by bands such as the Ramones. “Ziggy Stardust”, one of the highlights on the album, it’s Ziggy’s biography, Ziggy’s life and how he lives it “making love with his ego”. It’s another one of the most popular Bowie songs and one of the best Rock songs ever written, with an initial guitar riff that is today known by most Rock music fans. “Suffragette City”, another Proto Punk song, features a piano riff heavily influenced by Little Richard, and the famous sing-along hook “Wham bam thank you ma’am!”, one of the album’s most popular songs, it almost didn’t made the track list. Bowie first offered it to one of his favorite band and friends Mott the Hoople, but they refused it, opting to choose the also Bowie’s song “All The Young Dudes”. It’s the time to close the Ziggy’s epic adventure, the inevitable arrives, Ziggy Stardust will die, killed by his own fame and popularity. This tale, it’s told on the album’s final track, “Rock N’ Roll Suicide”, It’s Ziggy’s final collapse as an old, washed-up rock star and he’ll be teared to pieces on stage. This song was used to close the shows of the 1972/1973 Bowie tours. On stage, the song lyrics were enhanced by Bowie’s dramatic performance. It was the last song performed with The Spiders From Mars.

A life of it’s own: “Ziggy wouldn’t leave me alone for years”

Produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, that worked with Bowie previously on “Hunky Dory” and would also produce Bowie’s hit albums of the Ziggy era “Aladdin Sane” and “Pin Ups”. After Ziggy’s era, Bowie never worked with Scott again and started a strong collaboration with Tony Visconti. The iconic album packaging and art, as described by Bowie, was heavily inspired by William Burroughs book “Wild Boys” and “A Clockwork Orange”, in his own words “everything had to be infinitely symbolic”. Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie’s most famous creation, his golden pass to the much-deserved fame and stardom after struggling to be recognized as a musician for years but, despite that, Ziggy, who returned two more times on the 1973 albums “Aladdin Sane” (described by Bowie as Ziggy goes to America) and “Pin Ups”, nearly destroyed Bowie. He stated later, looking back at Ziggy Stardust that “Ziggy wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” In 1974, Bowie created the character Halloween Jack, featured on the cover of “Diamond Dogs”. It might be understood as Ziggy at first sight, but by then, Ziggy was dead, and the Thin White Duke was about to be born.

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted

Side 1
1 “Five Years”
2 “Soul Love”
3 “Moonage Daydream”
4 “Starman”
5 “It Ain’t Easy” (Ron Davies)

Side 2
6 “Lady Stardust”
7 “Star”
8 “Hang On to Yourself”
9 “Ziggy Stardust”
10 “Suffragette City”
11 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”

Personnel
David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, harpsichord, piano, arrangements
Mick Ronson: electric guitar, backing vocals, keyboards, piano, string arrangements
Trevor Bolder: bass, trumpet
Mick Woodmansey: drums
Rick Wakeman and Dana Gillespie (uncredited): harpsichord and background vocals on “It Ain’t Easy”

Produced by:David Bowie and Ken Scott
Recorded during:8 November 1971 – 4 February 1972 at Trident Studios, London
Released:June 16, 1972
Label: RCA

Singles:
“Starman” / “Suffragette City” Released: 28 April 1972
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” Released: 11 April 1974

Strongest tracks:
All

Look back at David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars performing “Ziggy Stardust” on their last concert, live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 3 July 1973,

Also watch: The legendary David Bowie performance of “Starman” at the Top Of The Pops in 1972

Listen to the album “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” on Spotify

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