David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
To say this is one of the most important and essential records in my life is an obvious understatement to my friends. It's so bad I can't even hear one song without expecting the next song on the album to start playing sequentially.
It sounds like a record full of singles. This makes it all the more interesting to hear that when the record company — who were surprisingly hands-off during the making of the record — said "they didn't hear a single," Bowie went and banged out "Starman," only one of the best songs of his career.
Here. Here's your stinkin' single.
The persona David Bowie had created as Ziggy Stardust — this spaceman on earth trying to navigate his way — feels well thought-out and frankly a little well-rehearsed. One of the things I've always admired most in Bowie's career was his control over his image, and he's had so many different ones.
With Ziggy, it felt like a calculated move on Bowie's part to create this image and write a batch of songs to go along with it. Talking to Ken Scott, the co-producer and engineer of the record, apparently Ziggy was never meant to be a concept album. In fact, maybe only a few of the songs strung together made any sense to the rest of the record. That's surprising, isn't it? I think the image and the tunes seemed like a complete and fully realized package.
Ken Scott was collaborative with Bowie, they trusted each other and they had worked together on Hunky Dory. They had that album in the can when Bowie approached Scott to go back in the studio with these new songs. Then came the warning: "You might not dig these as there's more rock in these songs." Scott tried convincing Bowie to wait to record the new material until Hunky Dory would be released. He said sometimes being a good producer is just getting out of the way in the studio.
Many of the vocals were first or second takes and the entire record was recorded in two weeks at the legendary Trident Studios in London. Once in the studio, guitarist Mick Ronson had a lot of say in the arranging of the tunes. Thinking that the record on their hands would do nothing for the American audience was sadly true, as it never really charted here. But in the UK It blew up! Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!
Naturally everyone asks what is your favorite song off the record. I guess if I had to decide today it would be "Rock and Roll Suicide," a track that builds to a dramatic climax with Bowie screaming, "You're not alone/Give me your hand 'cause you're wonderful!"
Speaking to the disenfranchised in all of us: having not been a teenaged outsider in the '70s sporting glitter and freaky clothes, I can only imagine what it meant to his fans to hear a song so specifically written about them. And for them to know that not only are they not alone but they're also being led by this beautiful genderless alien from Mars — every parent's dream come true.
In summary, the record bounces all over with the quiet seething of "Five Years" to the amped up "Suffragette City" and the highlight track for me "Star," with one of my favorite lyrics ever: "I could fall asleep at night as a rock-and-roll star."
For the record, I still wear glitter and dress a little freaky myself.
Mary Lucia can be heard weekdays 2 p.m.-6 p.m. on The Current. Lucia began her media career doing evenings at REV 105, co-hosted mornings on Zone 105, and hosted a talk show "Somethin' Stupid" on 1500 KSTP. From 1998-2001 she hosted the local music show Popular Creeps, a two-time Minnesota Music Award winner for "Best Locally Produced Show."