Today we celebrate the birth of David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016) better known as David Bowie.
It is hard for people to comprehend what music would be like without the influence of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, even harder again to comprehend life simply without David Bowie.
The effect on music that album has had pulses through even today's releases forty six years later.
One compact disc remaster had one of the most honest statements made by a record company, sometimes known to embellish how good a release actually is, it reads: 'Whether you know it or not, this album changed your life!’
On July the 6th 1972, at 7:30 pm, a time before video recorders, without Sky Plus, we can pinpoint precisely what the likes of Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Ian McCulloch, Gary Numan, Johnny Lydon, Boy George and Adam Ant were doing. They were watching David Bowie on Top Of The Pops performing the song 'Starman', dressed as a Punk-rainbow astronaut with a red mullet, looking like something that arrived from another universe, draping his arm across Mick Ronson's shoulder in a bromance meets almost homoerotic display. This must have sent quivers through the stiff upper lip post war generation. What the kids must have thought, when Bowie pointing at the camera sang the line; "I had to phone someone so I picked on you".
It only took those four minutes to transform David Bowie from a meandering folk style artist to the most scandalous rock star Britain ever produced. The future had finally arrived, every kid who watched that performance felt their calling to become a musician. In some respect this was the musical equivalent of a 'JFK' moment, an event which resonated around the world, a time engrained in people's minds. The kids who felt like outsiders, bullied or teased, now had their messiah, their role model and their friend when they felt alone.
"Let the children lose it,
Let the children use it,
Let all the children boogie."
The album itself, “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars", released a month before the Top Of The Pops performance is an unequivocal masterpiece, one of those rarities where every track could be a single, no filler. From the slow drum intro of 'Five Years' to the last orchestral breath of 'Rock N Roll Suicide', this is the album which would define what the decade was to become.
Bowies previous two albums with Mick Ronson,the garage rock 'Man Who Sold The World' and the mixed folk-pop-rock of his 'ode to influences' album 'Hunky Dory', were merely paving the way for what was to come. The lineup of The Spiders made up by Ronson, Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums.As for the album itself produced by Bowie along with Ken Scott, some complained that it didn't sound heavy enough, the drums flat and the guitar at times not loud enough, without realising this was the intention as it was a glam rock album made by Ziggy and the Spiders, not by David Bowie. The character 'Ziggy Stardust',a composition of two of Bowies influences, Iggy Pop and the musician and LSD lunatic the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (Norman Carl Odam).
Ziggy became Bowie's alter ego and vehicle for the very loose concept album based on a bisexual alien landing to earth, who became a famous rock star and was eventually killed by his fans. In some ways Bowie saw Ziggy as a mirror image of himself, “Ziggy played it left hand”- the mirror image of Bowie,a right handed guitar player.
A dangerous mix for Bowie as the line between art and reality would sometimes become blurred and drive him to the depths of insanity. This may explain the short longevity of the Ziggy character.
The song cycle itself is strong and there again is evidence of tributes to other musicians, such as the song “Lady Stardust” a tribute in sorts to Marc Bolan,the pair friends as well as competitors. A surreal opener opener in “Five Years”, the time the earth had left before it's destroyed, the very reason Ziggy is sent to earth is to save it, but, instead he becomes a rock star.
This flows into “Soul Love”, what the alien sees his fate as being and his reasons for his saving the human race. All very sci-fi,and 'Moonage Daydream', a song which describes all parts of the alien is in fact one of the best examples of Bowies cut and shut lyrics,where he would once write lines out individually (cut them out and arrange them until they formed some sense); “I'm an Alligator,I'm a mama-papa”. “Suffragette City”, is a mixture of themes from the book 'A Clockwork Orange', again the sci-fi future is touched upon but here he also ask questions of his own sexuality.
But what holds the album together are the steady glam rock songs which lighten the sci-fi themes making the album more accessible, “Hang Onto Yourself”, “Star” and the cover version “It Ain't Easy”. These are the perfect non-complicated songs to break the serious mood and prevents the album turning into a meandering concept mess. The albums closer and one of Bowie's strongest songs is “Rock And Roll Suicide”, this closes the album by detailing the character Ziggy Stardust's implosion and becoming a burnt out, washed up rock star.
"You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe, but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide"
All the while the other band members and his ego are trying to tell him how he's not finished, "You're not alone!" and he reminisces about the legions of fans he once had; “Gimme your hands,cause you're wonderful". The perfect closer, the perfect end to the Ziggy Stardust saga.
David Bowie would continue changing styles from soul to electronic music, he would create better albums but none would ever be as appealing as the one surrounding his first alter-ego character Ziggy.
Kevin Burke Dec ‘18