Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)


1. Five Years: Perfect opener. Perfect (this has been scientifically proven boys and girls). It’s the simple format of guitar, bass, drums and piano that gets me going, not to mention the pummelling climax which really makes the spiky red hair stand up on end. Again with the Ken Scott partnership, a partnership that really works by the way - Hunky Dory and now this. A despairing tale of humanity enduring an apocalyptic countdown launches us into the loose “concept” that is the Ziggy album. 9.0

2. Soul Love: Drum fades out, drums fade into a gorgeously melodic song, with ‘the Spiders’ laying down their signature sound, Bowie’s enchanting sax ‘dubs underneath and subsequent solo. He’s quite suspicious of love in this one. No ‘I love you, you love me’ shit going down here. There is, but much more complex than that. And more interesting. Track down the amazing Tokyo ‘78 rendition. 8.0

3. Moonage Daydream: Masterpiece #8. The colossal side-one showpiece launches this album deep into glam rock outaspace. Ziggy’s sci-fi tour-de-force, with an arrangement by Mick Ronson that is simply a triumph. Piano, strings and thunderous guitar, before flying off in a face-melting solo. 10.0

4. Starman: A fine pop song, and Bowie’s first hit since 'Space Oddity'. This album could’ve been called ‘Round and Round’ had it not been for the late addition of this and some other key tracks (eg: Suffragette City) that pulled the Ziggy album together. They couldn’t miss with songwriting like this. The chorus and refrain melody is pop perfection and started a tremendous run of singles. 8.5

5. It Ain’t Easy: So far Brit-American nihilism, so good. Written by southern American songwriter Ron Davies 2 years earlier, ‘It Ain’t Easy’ had already been covered by numerous artists such as Three Dog Night and Long John Baldry. At what first seems a bizarre selection here (and marginalised somewhat by the little oogie community), this cover left over from the Hunky Dory sessions turns out to be a decent blues rocker. Correct me if I’m wrong but his version on the essential John Peel sessions teaming with Warren Peace is very listenable. At worst a singalong-able infectious addition to the Ziggy repertoire. 7.0

6. Lady Stardust: Masterpiece #9. Ziggy’s song to Marc Bolan. It doesn’t get much better than this. As strong a melody as Bowie has written and an absolute masterpiece that should be on any number of the diahreaticly released Bowie ‘best of’s of the years. A lovely song. The early demos of this are interesting too. 10.0

7. Star: The I’m-going-to-be-a-stratospheric-rock-star-just-watch-me number-one punch and begins the unstoppable gallop down Ziggy’s home straight, and the pinnacle of the 1978 Stage world tour set. 7.5

8. Hang Onto Yourself: The Bolan theme continues here with Bowie’s breathy vocals and frenzied riffage. They would go one step further into T.Rex terrain with a couple of tracks that never made it on here, eg: 'Velvet Goldmine' and 'Sweet Head'. A previously uninspiring version had flopped as a single, which brings me to the unfathomable exclusion of 'John I’m Only Dancing' (9.0), which would’ve made this album even better (!). 7.5

9. Ziggy Stardust: Masterpiece #10. Ronson as usual is exemplary, but the classic opening riff is all Bowie. There’s nothing I can say about this song other than it encapsulates the entire plot of the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in it’s lyrics. The centrepiece of the album and one of the all time great rock songs. 10.0

10. Suffragette City: Masterpiece #11. Scorching dirty riffs, paranoid hostility and a blueprint for rock stardom all in the one blistering track. Unfathomably turned down when offered to Mott the Hoople so Bowie recorded it himself - and thank god he did. The purest of rock and roll songs. 10.0

11. Rock and Roll Suicide: Masterpiece #12. Bowie presents Ziggy’s downfall with a breathtaking theatricality and a thrilling climax to an album with not a note out of place. I love the icy, offbeat “…you’re a rock n roll suicide’. It’s the definitive anthem for glam rock decadence and tragedy, and a kiss-off to the album. “What if Ziggy had quit?”. There’s no better way to sign out. 10.0


VERDICT: “To be played at maximum volume”. The complete album and a landmark in the history of rock from the most important and influential artist of our generation announcing his greatness, and was Bowie’s ticket to superstardom. It has recording techniques that set the blueprint for many a band as well as an abject lesson in how to record and layer vocals, for starters. The timeless album cover has a tinted 50s sci-fi comic look that captures Ziggy just fallen to earth in a dark and empty Heddon Street. The release of this album followed an exhausting (non-stop and strangely non-European) year-long tour that would end with an onstage retirement at the Hammersmith Odeon in London 1973 - last captured in Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture.

NEXT: Ziggy does USA!

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