Loosely based on the characterizations of “A Clockwork Orange” – but of a much more provocative nature – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars more or less introduced the world to David Bowie. Prior to the album’s release in 1972, Bowie struggled to maintain his momentum – both financially and artistically. Originally on the singer-songwriter circuit, he gained some ground with “Space Oddity”, which became a hit single in the UK. After teaming up with guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti, the bubbly chameleon became more adventurous and eye-popping The man who sold the world. He deviated from the stubborn formula Best order, but made a remarkable step forward as a songwriter and performer. From there he mutated into what would soon become the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll alien: Ziggy Stardust.
Bowie called him a “plastic rock star,” but Ziggy Stardust was more of a hybrid, attracting contemporaries like Marc Bolan and Iggy Pop, as well as Vince Taylor, the original “Black Leather Rebel” who made an impression on young David Jones in the ’60s years. From 1972 to 1973, Ziggy Stardust and David Bowie became one and the same. After making a statement to the press about his sexual preferences and backing it up with calculated style and presentation, it all quickly fell into place. It would have been one thing if the whole androgynous, flamboyant angle had been nothing more than showbiz lard — and for the most part it was — but Bowie and the Spiders pulled through with a solid collection of tunes. Ronson acted as the singer’s right hand, with a lethal right hand that would fly and back over the steady tempo set by bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey. With Bowie at the helm rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is an exhilarating, gender-bending rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
Although the concept behind the album is shaky at best, with each song offering a glimpse into Bowie’s mindset. “Five Years” predicts the end of the world with a Dylanesque physique and bite. From there, the plot unravels seamlessly with no reason or apology. In fact, “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On To Yourself” were previously recorded and released as singles under the pseudonym Arnold Corns. Somehow they both found their way into the ambiguity of the story and were re-recorded for the album. On the other hand, “Starman” was a last minute entry that was later released as Ziggy’s first single. It made the UK top ten while languishing in the upper echelons of America’s Hot 100. Of course, “Ziggy Stardust” shed some light on the plot (if there ever was one), although there’s speculation that it’s actually about Jimi Hendrix (“he played it left hand but took it too far”). “Suffragette City” successfully brings the house down with its infamous “Wham bam, thanks, ma’am!” while “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” ends the whole affair on an introspective note. Produced by Ken Scott, rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars has been reissued in various configurations and formats over the years. In 2017, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, which the Library of Congress described as “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.” Like so many things, the legend of Ziggy Stardust eventually fell to earth, but the legacy of David Bowie will never go out of style.
~ Shawn Perry