Nearly 44 years ago a strange alien-like person made his way into millions of turntables and television screens with orange hair and a multicolored space suit. It was like nothing anybody had ever seen or heard before. The teens who heard and saw Bowie would be changed forever and music on planet earth would never be the same.
What most people don’t realize is that by this time David Bowie had been trying to be successful in the music industry for nearly ten years. Bowie’s professional career as a musician began in 1963 and “Space Oddity” became Bowie’s first top five entry onto the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. Three years later after a period of experimentation, Bowie emerged in 1972 with his flamboyant, androgynous and often other worldly alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The character would go on to be defined by his single “Starman” and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
During this time Glam Rock was in full swing with artists David Bowie and T. Rex being the Beatles and Stones of the scene. This was during the mid to late 70s in England. The difference between T. Rex and Bowie was, that Bowie wanted to make great thematic albums that told stories and transported the listener to other dimensions. Whereas Marc Bolan and T.Rex were more interested in the success of their singles as opposed to producing a successful LP.
The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was the perfect combination Glam Rock and the future shock of “Clockwork Orange”. Bowie reached back to the heavy rock sound of his prior hit “The Man Who Sold the World“. Bowie then created a concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust and his Christ-like rise and fall at the hands of adoring fans. The story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie’s fractured and almost paranoid sounding lyrics describe strong images of a decadent, decaying future and the music reflects an apocalyptic dread. The guitars were fatter and louder than Bowie’s past works and the addition of genuine pop songs, experimentation and a cinematic touch would come together to give Ziggy Stardust his glitzy array of riffs, hooks, drama, and style.
Mick Ronson played guitar with flair that captures the attention of rock fans young and old to this day. Songs such as “Suffragette City” and “Hang Onto Yourself” give the album a harder rock edge compared to past works. On the other hand songs like “Five Years” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” have a sense of staged drama which up until this point was either unsuccessful or unheard of in rock & roll. A sense of self-conscious theater goes on to be considered a giant part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign.
The narrative of Ziggy Stardust unfolds through the use of shifting perspectives, beginning with “Five Years” which describes humanity on the brink of destruction. Ziggy is observed through the eyes of one obsessed fan who, following the star’s death, takes their own life in the thrilling climax of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”.
Bowie was on a creative roll which catapulted him to success. He would finally succeed with this album, not in spite of his past mistakes, but because of them. Ziggy Stardust was familiar in composition, but alien in performance. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars really is the first time his vision and execution met in such a monumental but iconic fashion.
This album has inspired musicians, artists, fashion designers, and social movements even today. It was as if Ziggy’s laser guided melodies and his lyrics from another dimension heralded in a new era of rock and roll. Shortly after this album artists like KISS, Alice Cooper, and The Sweet would have never been given the time of day based on their make-up and wardrobe, their appearance began to see success thanks to David Bowie.
Although The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars only peaked at No. 5 in the United Kingdom and No. 75 in the United States on the Billboard Music Charts, this album has been consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time considering Rolling Stone magazine ranking it the 35th greatest album ever. Ziggy really represents an artist who was in the right place with the right people and the right songs at the right time. The future would hold many more surprises for David Bowie, but for millions this album would always be the place where the world’s most famous Martian fell from the sky and landed on earth.
R.I.P. David Bowie.
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