Ziggy Played Guitar! Spiders From Mars!
David Bowie released his 5th LP “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” on June 6, 1972. The album title is often shortened to just “Ziggy Stardust“. The theme of the LP is loosely based on a story of a fictional bisexual alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust. The album is considered by many among the greatest albums of Rock and Roll. It peaked at No. 5 in the UK but only made it to No. 75 in the US on the Billboard Music Charts.
The album cover photograph was taken outside furriers “K. West” at 23 Heddon Street, London, W1, 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.
The album tells the story of Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Bowie created Ziggy Stardust while in New York City promoting Hunky Dory and performed as him on a tour of the United Kingdom, Japan and North America. The album, and the character of Ziggy Stardust, was known for its glam rock influences and themes of sexual exploration and social commentary. These factors, coupled with the ambiguity surrounding Bowie’s sexuality and fuelled by a ground-breaking performance of “Starman” on Top of the Pops, led to the album being met with controversy and since hailed as a seminal work. “Starman”, released as a single in April 1972 (and not intended for the final album at first), originally featured a “loud mix” of the “morse code” section between the verse and the chorus. This single mix appeared on the original UK album, but not on other vinyl editions of the album internationally (which had a more subdued mix of this section), and it did not appear on CD until the song was included on the compilation album Nothing Has Changed (2014). “Suffragette City”, the b-side to “Starman”, was mastered for the album with a three-note coda leading in from “Ziggy Stardust” to make the songs sound linked. They were never played as such by Bowie in concert.
In 1990, Bowie said that he had recorded “about half of the Ziggy album” before Hunky Dory was released, claiming that he had to release Hunky Dory due to his recording contract with his label. Sessions in November 1971 produced “Hang on to Yourself“, “Ziggy Stardust“, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (later shortened to “Star“), “Moonage Daydream“, “Soul Love“, “Lady Stardust“, and “Five Years“. Also recorded during the November sessions were two more cover songs intended for the as-yet untitled album. They were Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” (re-titled “Round and Round”) and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” (re-titled “Port of Amsterdam”). A re-recording of “Holy Holy” (first recorded in 1970 and released as a single, to poor sales, in January 1971) was initially slated for Ziggy, but was dropped in favour of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. All three songs were eventually released as b-sides. “Velvet Goldmine“, also recorded in November 1971, was intended for Ziggy, but was replaced by “Suffragette City“. RCA released it in 1975 as the B-side to the UK re-release of “Space Oddity” after having it remixed and mastered without Bowie’s approval.
On the album’s final running order, “Round and Round” was replaced by “Starman”, and the Ron Davies cover “It Ain’t Easy” replaced “Amsterdam”. “It Ain’t Easy”, recorded on 9 July 1971 during the Hunky Dory sessions, closed the first side of the album. 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 in early February to record the final master takes of “Starman”, “Suffragette City” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. (Some of the radio performances appear on Bowie at the Beeb.)
Recorded and released during the ensuing Ziggy tour were two other songs. The first, “John, I’m Only Dancing“, was recorded at Trident in late June and released (in the UK only) in September. “The Jean Genie“, recorded at RCA Studios in New York in early October at the start of the American tour, was released in the US in November. The song was remixed for Aladdin Sane.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has received critical acclaim and has been consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it the 35th greatest ever. It was ranked the 20th greatest album ever in a 1997 British survey, the 41st greatest of all time by Q magazine and one of the 100 greatest releases ever by Time magazine. In 2017, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” by the Library of Congress.
A concert film of the same name, directed by D. A. Pennebaker, was recorded in 1973 and released a decade later in 1983.