David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars

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David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars
ZiggyStardust.jpg
Studio album by
 David Bowie
Released 16 June 1972
Recorded 8 November 1971 – 4 February 1972
Studio Trident, London
Genre
  • Glam rock
  • proto-punk
Length 38:29
Label RCA
Parlophone (2012 reissue)
Producer
  • David Bowie
  • Ken Scott
David Bowie chronology
Hunky Dory
(1971)
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
(1972)
Aladdin Sane
(1973)
 
Singles from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  1. "Starman" / "Suffragette City"
    Released: 28 April 1972
  2. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
    Released: 11 April 1974

 

  "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust) is the fifth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 16 June 1972 in the United Kingdom. It was produced by Bowie and Ken Scott and features contributions from Bowie's backing band the Spiders from Mars – comprising Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London like his previous album "Hunky Dory". Most of the album was recorded in November 1971 with further sessions in January and early February 1972.

Described as a rock opera and also a loose concept album, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" is about Bowie's titular alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a fictional androgynous bisexual rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. The character was retained for the subsequent Ziggy Stardust Tour through the United Kingdom, Japan and North America. The album, and the character of Ziggy Stardust, were influenced by glam rock and explored themes of sexual exploration and social taboos. A concert film of the same name, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, was recorded in 1973 and released a decade later.

"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart and number 75 in the US Billboard Top LP chart. It re-peaked at number 21 on the Billboard 200 in 2016 following Bowie's death. As of January 2016 it had sold 7.5 million copies worldwide. The album received widespread critical acclaim. Rolling Stone ranked it 35th on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2017, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" by the Library of Congress.

Recording and production

Bowie started working on his fourth album, "Hunky Dory", on 8 June 1971 at Trident Studios, London. RCA Records in New York heard the tapes and signed him to a three-album deal on 9 September. Hunky Dory was released on 17 December to positive reviews and moderate commercial success. Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust were almost recorded back-to-back, but much of the material for Ziggy Stardust was recorded before "Hunky Dory" was released. His backing band realised that most of the songs on Hunky Dory were not suitable live material, so they needed a follow-up that could be toured behind.

Ziggy Stardust's sessions also took place at Trident, using a 16-track 3M M56 tape recorder. The sessions started on 8 November 1971, with the bulk of the album recorded that month, and concluded on 4 February 1972. Bowie had recorded early versions of the songs "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang On to Yourself" in February 1971, for the Arnold Corns side project, and had taped demos of "Ziggy Stardust" and "Lady Stardust" around that time. The November 1971 sessions produced the final versions of those four songs, along with "Rock 'n' Roll Star" (later shortened to "Star"), "Soul Love", and "Five Years", as well as some unreleased tracks. In 2012, co-producer Ken Scott said that "95 percent of the vocals on the four albums I did with him as producer, they were first takes."

Also recorded during the November sessions were five more songs: two covers, Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" (re-titled "Round and Round") and Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam" (re-titled "Port of Amsterdam"); and three original tracks: "Velvet Goldmine", and re-recordings of "Holy Holy" and "The Supermen". All these songs were initially slated for the album. Bowie also intended "All the Young Dudes", "Rebel Rebel" and "Rock 'n' Roll With Me" to be on a Ziggy Stardust musical, which was later aborted.

After recording some of the new songs for radio presenter Bob Harris's Sounds of the 70s as the newly dubbed Spiders from Mars in January 1972, the band returned to Trident that month to begin work on "Suffragette City" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide". RCA executive Dennis Katz had complained that the album did not contain a single, so Bowie wrote "Starman", which was completed on 4 February 1972. "Starman" was released as a single on 28 April 1972, and became a hit after a successful performance on the BBC television program Top of the Pops. The Ron Davies cover "It Ain't Easy", recorded on 9 July 1971 during the Hunky Dory sessions, closed the first side of the album.

 

Concept and themes

Ziggy Stardust was not conceived as a concept album and much of the story was written after the album was recorded. The characters were androgynous. Mick "Woody" Woodmansey, drummer for the Spiders from Mars, said the clothes they had worn had "femininity and sheer outrageousness", and that the characters' looks "definitely appealed to our rebellious artistic instincts". Nenad Georgievski of All About Jazz said the record was presented with "high-heeled boots, multicolored dresses, extravagant makeup and outrageous sexuality". Bowie had already developed an androgynous appearance, which was approved by critics, but received mixed reactions from audiences. His love of acting led his total immersion in the characters he created for his music. After acting the same role over an extended period, it became impossible for him to separate Ziggy Stardust from his own offstage character. Bowie said 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." Fearing that Ziggy would define his career, Bowie quickly developed the persona of "Aladdin Sane" in his subsequent album.

 
Singer Vince Taylor (pictured in 1963), one of the main inspirations for the character Ziggy Stardust.

 

The character was inspired by British rock 'n' roll singer Vince Taylor, whom David Bowie met after Taylor had had a breakdown and believed himself to be a cross between a god and an alien. However, Taylor was only part of the blueprint for the character. Other influences included the cult musician Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Kansai Yamamoto, who designed the costumes Bowie wore during the tour. An alternative theory is that, during a tour, Bowie developed the concept of Ziggy as a melding of the persona of Iggy Pop with the music of Lou Reed, producing "the ultimate pop idol". A girlfriend recalled his "scrawling notes on a cocktail napkin about a crazy rock star named Iggy or Ziggy", and on his return to England he declared his intention to create a character "who looks like he's landed from Mars".

The Ziggy Stardust name came partly from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and partly because Ziggy was "one of the few Christian names I could find beginning with the letter 'Z'". In 1990, Bowie explained that the "Ziggy" part came from a tailor's shop called Ziggy's that he passed on a train. He liked it because it had "that Iggy [Pop] connotation but it was a tailor's shop, and I thought, Well, this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy. So Ziggy Stardust was a real compilation of things." He later asserted that Ziggy Stardust was born out of a desire to move away from the denim and hippies of the 1960s. Along these lines, some critics assert that Bowie's artificial concoction of a rock star persona was a symbolic critique of the artificiality seen in the rock world of the time.

The album's concept is loose, and pieced together after many of the songs were already recorded. Indeed, before the album's initial release Bowie told a US interviewer:

What you have there on that album when it does finally come out, is a story which doesn’t really take place, it’s just a few little scenes from the life of a band called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, who could feasibly be the last band on Earth—it could be within the last five years of Earth. I’m not at all sure. Because I wrote it in such a way that I just dropped the numbers into the album in any order that they cropped up. It depends in which state you listen to it in.

In the album's story, the Earth is saved by the rock n' roll messiah, Ziggy Stardust, with only five years to survive. He wins the hearts of teens, scares parents, seduces everyone in his path, and eventually dies a victim of his own fame. According to Bowie, he "takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples". During the song "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", the infinites (extraterrestrials) arrive, and tear Ziggy Stardust to pieces on stage. This wider interpretation of the Ziggy mythology is not explicitly stated anywhere in the album, but has been perpetuated over the years by fans and Bowie himself.

 

Music and lyrics

Ziggy Stardust has been retrospectively described as glam rock, rock opera and proto-punk. Nenad Georgievski felt the record represents Bowie's interests in "theater, dance, pantomime, kabuki, cabaret and science fiction."

For the album, Mick Ronson used an electric guitar plugged to a 100-watt Marshall amplifier and a wah-wah pedal; Bowie played acoustic rhythm guitar. The album begins with "Five Years", which opens with a minimalist drum figure. The track contains a repeated diatonic chord progression, resembling early 1950s rock and roll music. "Five Years" sets up the central conflict of the album, the imminent destruction of Earth. The next track, "Soul-Love", has a pop-jazz orchestration. In the song Bowie's vocals are double-tracked, which gives an effect of two people singing and suggests a band performance. Bowie also performs the alto saxophone on this song. The following track, "Moonage Daydream", uses harmonic and melodic hooks, and heavy metal-style percussion and guitar. "Moonage Daydream" introduces the alien messiah that will rescue the Earth from disaster. "Starman" was the last song written on the album and the first released as a single. "Starman" replaced the cover of Chuck Berry's "Round and Round" when the band decided their album needed a single; it is perhaps the most concrete description of Ziggy's role in the rescue of Earth. "It Ain't Easy" is a raucous cover of Ron Davies. Its arrangement was described by Ned Raggett as "a cabaret confection and a blasting rock apocalypse", characterized by quieter verses contrasting with choruses that contain overdubbed backing vocals and Ronson's "brilliantly triumphant guitar". The track closes the first side of the album.

"Lady Stardust" has a moderate tempo, piano accompaniment and a pop hook. The guitar and Bowie's and Ronson's arrangement on "Hang On to Yourself" resemble late 1970s punk rock. "Suffragette City", one of the greatest hits of the album, is a "straight-ahead" track which contains a saxophone-like section, produced with an ARP 2500 synthesizer. The last track of the album, "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", builds upon its minimalistic acoustic guitar textures as Ziggy's desperate message struggles to enlighten his earthling audience. The arc of the album reaches its climax as the starman belts out his final words of wisdom before perishing onstage.

Ziggy Stardust's concept and music were influenced by Bowie's earlier album "The Man Who Sold the World" (1970), Iggy Pop, singer/songwriter of the proto-punk band the Stooges, Lou Reed, singer/songwriter and guitarist of the Velvey Underground, Marc Bolan, singer/songwriter and guitarist of glam rock band T. Rex, guitarist and singer Jimi Hendrix; and progressive rock band King Crimson. The album's lyrics discuss the artificiality of rock music in general, political issues, sexual orientation and stardom. Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the album's lyrics as "fractured, paranoid" and "evocative of a decadent, decaying future".

 

Artwork and packaging

 
Commemorative plaque for Ziggy Stardust in Heddon Street, where the original album cover photo was taken.

 

The album cover photograph was taken by Brian Ward outside furriers "K. West" at 23 Heddon Street, London on 13 January 1972, looking south-east towards the centre of the city. Bowie said of the sign, "It's such a shame that sign went [was removed]. People read so much into it. They thought 'K. West' must be some sort of code for 'quest.' It took on all these sort of mystical overtones." The post office in the background (now "The Living Room, W1" bar) was the site of London's first nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, which opened in 1912. As part of street renovations, in April 1997 a red "K series" phonebox was returned to the street, replacing a modern blue phonebox, which in turn had replaced the original phonebox featured on the rear cover.

Of the album's packaging in general, Bowie said:

The idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell thing with the one mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys, by William S. Burroughs. [...] [It] was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. [...] Everything had to be infinitely symbolic."

The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010.

The rear cover of the original vinyl LP contained the instruction "TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME" (in caps). The instruction was omitted, however, from re-releases.

In March 2012, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street and Heddon Street, installed a commemorative brown plaque at No. 23 in the same place as the "K. West" sign on the cover photo. The unveiling was attended by original band members Woodmansey and Bolder, and was unveiled by Gary Kemp. The plaque was the first to be installed by The Crown Estate and is one of the few plaques in the country devoted to fictional characters.

 

Release and promotion

 
David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust Tour.

 

Widely considered to be Bowie's breakthrough album, Ziggy Stardust was released on 16 June 1972 in the UK. An ambiguity surrounding Bowie's sexuality (even after Bowie declared himself as gay) and a performance of "Starman" on Top of the Pops brought public attention to the album. Indeed, the Top of the Pops performance helped to solidify Bowie as a controversial pop icon. In a 2010 interview in Rolling Stone, Bono said, "The first time I saw him was singing 'Starman' on television. It was like a creature falling from the sky. Americans put a man on the moon. We had our own British guy from space - with an Irish mother."

Ziggy Stardust entered the top 10 in its second week on the UK Albums Chart. In its first week, the album sold 8,000 copies in Britain. After dropping down the chart in late 1972, the album began climbing the chart again; by the end of 1972, the album had sold 95,968 units in Britain. It peaked at number 5 on the chart in February 1973. In the US, the album peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Top LPs and Tape chart in April 1973. It was eventually certified platinum and gold in the UK and US respectively. The first single from the album, "Starman", charted at number 10 in the UK while peaking at 65 in the US.

The album returned to the UK chart on 31 January 1981, amid the New Romantic era that Bowie had helped inspire. It was followed by a reissue of "Aladdin Sane", which spent the first of 24 weeks on the chart in March 1982. After Bowies death from cancer on 10 January 2016, the album reached a new peak of 21 in the US Billboard 200. It has sold an estimated 7.5 million copies worldwide, making it Bowie's second-best-selling album.

 

Reception and legacy

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars
Blender 5/5 stars
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars
Christgau's Record Guide B+
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars
Pitchfork 10/10
Q 5/5 stars
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars
Spin 5/5 stars
Uncut 5/5 stars

Upon release, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" received highly favourable reviews by music critics. James Johnson of New Musical Express (NME) said the album has "a bit more pessimism" than on previous releases, and called the album's songs "fine". Michael Watts of Melody Maker published that, while Ziggy Stardust had "no well-defined story line", it had "odd songs and references to the business of being a pop star that overall add up to a strong sense of biographical drama." In Rolling Stone, writer Richard Cromelin gave the album a favourable review of "at least a 99" (assumed out of 100). But while Cromelin thought it was good, he felt that the record and its style might not be of lasting interest: "We should all say a brief prayer that his fortunes are not made to rise and fall with the fate of the 'drag-rock' syndrome". Circus wrote that the album is "from start to finish [...] of dazzling intensity and mad design", and called it a "stunning work of genius". The album was placed at the top of Creem's end of year list.

Ziggy Stardust has been retrospectively acclaimed by critics, and recognised as one of the most important glam rock albums. Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote for AllMusic: "Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust – familiar in structure, but alien in performance – is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion." Greg Kot, writing for Chicago Tribune, described the album as a "guitar-fueled song cycle", saying it "enacted the deaths of Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix and the '60s and presaged the dread, decadence and eroticism of a new era." Ian Fortnam wrote for Classic rock that "Ziggy Stardust is David Bowie’s crowning achievement. Obviously, contrarians will insist other albums have proven to carry greater cultural weight or defined his artistic legacy better, but revisit Ziggy today and its visceral and emotional impact remains undeniable. Especially when played, as advised, 'at maximum volume'... Ziggy reflected and shaped its time and its audience like no other album."

In 1987, as part of their 20th anniversary, Rolling Stone ranked it number 6 on "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years". In 1997, Ziggy Stardust was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the UK. It was named the 35th best album ever made by Rolling Stone. In 2004, it was placed at number 81 in Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2006, Q magazine readers placed it at number 41, In the same year, the album was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. It was voted number 27 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.

According to Acclaimed music, a site which uses statistics to numerically represent reception among critics, Ziggy Stardust is the 16th most celebrated album of all time. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In 2003 and again in 2012, Rolling Stone ranked it 35th on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In March 2017, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the United States National Recording Preservation Board, which designates it as a sound recording that has had significant cultural, historical, or aesthetic impact in American life.

 

Track listing

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side One
No. Title Length
1. "Five Years" 4:42
2. "Soul Love" 3:34
3. "Moonage Daydream" 4:40
4. "Starman" 4:10
5. "It Ain't Easy" (Ron Davies) 2:58
Total length: 20:04
Side Two
No. Title Length
1. "Lady Stardust" 3:22
2. "Star" 2:47
3. "Hang On to Yourself" 2:40
4. "Ziggy Stardust" 3:13
5. "Suffragette City" 3:25
6. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" 2:58
Total length: 18:25

 

 

 

Personnel

Original album

Adapted from liner notes of Ziggy Stardust and AllMusic.

  • David Bowie – vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, arrangements
  • Mick Ronson – electric guitar, piano, backing vocals, organ, synthesizer, string arrangements
  • Trevor Bolder – bass guitar, trumpet
  • Mick Woodmansey – drums
  • Uncredited personnel: Rick Wakeman – harpsichord (It Ain't Easy) and Dana Gillespie – backing vocals (It Ain't Easy)

Technical

  • David Bowie – production
  • Ken Scott – production, audio engineering, mixing engineer
  • Ray Staff – audio engineering

 

 

 

Charts

Weekly charts

Year Chart Peak
position
1972 UK Albums Chart 5
1973 US Billboard 200 75
2016 US Billboard 200 21
US Top Catalog Albums (Billboard) 3
2018 Greek Albums Chart 32

 

Singles

Year Single Chart Peak
position
1972 "Starman" UK Singles Chart 10
Billboard Pop Singles 65
1974 "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" UK Singles Chart 22

 

Sales and certifications

 
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI) Gold 50,000*
United Kingdom (BPI) 2× Platinum 1,500,000
United States (RIAA) Gold 500,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

 

 

 

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

UK RCA Victor SF 8287 (LSP 4702) 1972 1st UK press.

The vinyl record has remained in excellent condition.

Audio quality is very clear and strong throughout.

Both record centre labels are clean, unmarked, and free from tears, stains or stickers.

The album cover is in excellent condition, displaying only minimal signs of wear.

The original black and white printed inner/lyric sleeve is excellently presented.

The album cover has a strong, undamaged spine, displaying very clear, printed script.

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