Record Company: Virgin Records
Release Date: June 6, 1972
Producer: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Web Site: http://www.davidbowie.com/
David Bowie ~ Vocals, Guitars, Saxophone
Mick Ronson ~ Guitar, Piano, Vocal
Trevor Bolder ~ Bass
Mick Woodmansey ~ Drums
Dana Gillespie ~ Backing Vocals on It Ain't Easy
Rick Wakeman ~ Harpsichord, Keyboards
1.) Five Years [4:42] (Bowie): The album opens with the lyrical premise that the world would come to an end in... you guessed it... five years. The song begins with a sparse arrangement (vocals, piano and drums), but slowly swells as the song goes on, eventually becoming a full orchestral piece before fading out again. I'd suspect that the music was written to symbolize the lyrical content... if I were a thinking man, that is. Overall, a very melancholy piece of music with a sad theme. Not my favorite song... but essential to the "plot" nonetheless. Rating: 6/10
2.) Soul Love [3:34] (Bowie): This is a classic example of a Bowie "oddity," featuring an upbeat rhythm in an odd time signature and a catchy melody. It manages to be simultaneously jazzy and folky, sometimes even bordering on hard rock during the choruses. The slow-burning sax solo and discreet guitar melodies on this tune make it a pleasure to listen to again after all these years (20+ for me, I'd say). I'd forgotten how much I liked it. Rating: 7/10
3.) Moonage Daydream [4:39] (Bowie): The first real brushes with Ziggy's hard-rocking persona occur in this track. The song features some heavy electric guitar work punctuating the acoustic verses. Lyrically, the song is pretty trippy, with lines like: "I'm the space invader... I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you..." The mix of styles, along with Bowie's outstanding melodies and Mick Ronson's stellar guitar work make this one of the songs that everybody remembers whenever someone mentions the immortal alien-turned-rockstar, Ziggy Stardust. Rating: 10/10
4.) Starman [4:13] (Bowie): This is another one of those classics that everyone seems to remember. The folky acoustic guitars and sing-along choruses make this a very catchy track, but it's Ronson's guitar work that really sells it, particularly when he and Bowie do their little vocal-guitar harmonizing near the end. A timeless tune... get your Bic lighters out for the choruses... Rating: 9/10
5.) It Ain't Easy [2:57] (Davies): Rick Wakeman lends a hand on harpsichord for this Ray Davies-written track. Alternating between the gentle harpsichord on the verses and big guitar choruses, this song packs a lot of dramatic punch in under 3 minutes. This isn't one of the more popular tracks on this disc, but it really should be. Rating: 9/10
6.) Lady Stardust [3:19] (Bowie): A sweet melodic sing-along track about the rise of the androgynous Ziggy/Lady Stardust. The lyrics speak about Ziggy's struggle to gain the acceptance of the crowds, which he eventually does, as much for his curious appearance as for his singing. This is one of those songs that I tend to skip sometimes due to my impatience, but it's really an integral part of the storyline (if you're into that sort of thing... ). Either way, lyrically, it's a masterpiece... and it's certainly worth a spin or three. Rating: 7/10
7.) Star [2:47] (Bowie): This tune is just a straight-ahead rocker about Ziggy's transformation into a full-blown "rock & roll star." This is about as straightforward tune as you'll ever hear from the Ziggy years. A solid performance from top to bottom. Rating: 9/10
8.) Hang On To Yourself [2:38] (Bowie): I always got a kick out of this tune, probably because I was exposed to the Ramones before I had really gotten into Bowie. As it turns out, the Ramones lifted the riff from this song... several times, in fact. Obviously, this one features a punk-inspired sound, although at the time of it's release, punk really hadn't reared it's ugly head yet. Ultimately, I guess you can thank Bowie (or blame him, if you prefer ) for helping to bring about the rise of punk rock a few years later. Rating: 9/10
9.) Ziggy Stardust [3:13] (Bowie): "Making love with his ego... Ziggy sucked up into his mind..."
You will never find a better description of the true "rock god" persona than Bowie gives here. The music is equally over-the-top, with the band laying down a great groove and Ronson throwing in some of his best chorus-driven fills. Everyone knows this song, so there's not much more to say, except: "He took it all too far... But boy, could he play guitar..."
Incidentally, I always wanted a "God-given ass"... how about you? Rating: 11/10
10.) Suffragette City [3:24] (Bowie): The ultimate rebels' anthem... another rallying cry for the punk rock scene. This song is one of the best Bowie has ever done, without a doubt. I won't provide any big description here... If you haven't heard this one, tune your radio to any classic rock radio station and wait about 10 minutes.
This concludes RockHard's "Wham! Bam! Thanks you, Ma'am!" tour of Sufragette City. Rating: 15/10
11.) Rock 'N' Roll Suicide [2:58] (Bowie): Here we have the tale of Ziggy's last ride into the sunset. As you'd expect, the music and lyrics are suitably sullen and downtrodden, telling a "Pink-like" tale of the rockstar burnout and excess. In the end, the star falls back down to earth. A suitable ending for this crazy roller-coaster ride. Rating: 8/10
The Last Word:
"Ziggy played guitar."
"The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars" was intended to be a concept album, but only in loose terms. Since I suspect that Cody had an ulterior motive in requesting this album, I'll say up-front that the concept didn't impress me a bit.
They rarely do... and this album is the perfect example why concepts generally don't do it for me. The main problem is that the story tends to be a bit convoluted (not to mention corny and simplistic ), and this is no exception. You really have to listen to the album all the way through repeatedly to get the full gist of the story, which I almost never do. To make matters worse, Bowie's lyrics tend to be pretty cryptic to start with, not to mention full of British mod slang. You pretty much have to have a lyrics sheet in front of you while you listen to get both the mood and the storyline fully. Thank God the Bowie remasters I've been buying up over the last few years have the full lyrics in the booklets. Last but not least, some of the songs in concept albums are obviously less 'important' than the others, basically there more for the continuity of the story than anything else. On the upside, there aren't any real blatant 'throwaways' here.
Anyway, here's a quick synopsis of the "concept" (because I know some of you love this stuff ): The world is set to end in five years time (Five Years). Ziggy Stardust comes along from space to entertain (Moonage Daydream) and bring a message of hope (Starman). He pays his dues (Lady Stardust) and skyrockets in popularity (Star), living the rock star life to the fullest (Ziggy Stardust & Suffragette City). Eventually though, the excesses of that lifestyle and his rabid fans send him crashing back to down to earth instead (Rock 'N' Roll Suicide).
For anyone interested, a much more complete description of Bowie's vision of the concept (in his own words) can be found here: Wikipedia: Ziggy Stardust ~ Plot
You'll be happy to hear that is really the only negative thing I have to say about this album, though. All of the songs (even the storyline 'fillers') are good enough to stand on their own here (unlike that deaf, dumb and blind kid, "Tommy" ). Concept or not, Bowie is a songwriting genius, without a doubt. His vocals are distinctive and his lyrics are always thought-provoking and edgy for their time period. When you add in the talented bandmates that Bowie tends to surround himself with, you have an awesome combination.
The legendary Mick Ronson is an awe-inspiring guitarist. He not only knows what to play... but when to play it. He also knows the 'Golden Rule of Guitar': Sometimes what you don't play is just as important as what you do. Mick does that admirably, opting to throw in just what the songs need and no more. All told, he should be required listening for all rock guitarists.
That brings me to the forgotten heroes of this album; drummer Mick Woodmansey and bassman Trevor Bolder. They were a rock-solid rhythm section, turning in picture-perfect performances. Like Ronson, they provided exactly what the songs needed. These guys were able to go from big and bold to soft and sweet seamlessly, often several times within the context of a single track. That's not easy unless you've really got the goods. These guys did... and sadly, nobody seems to remember their names. I sure didn't.
My hats off to them here.
Anyway, the story of Ziggy Stardust is said to be based loosely on the lives of rockers Vince Taylor (a tragic and sometimes funny Syd Barrett story: read more about him here) and Jimi Hendrix, who saw similar rises to stardom, only to be claimed by the excesses of that lifestyle. However, the music for each song was cleverly written to pay subtle homage to some of Bowie's contemporaries, like the Who, the Kinks, T. Rex, the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground. Originally, he envisioned these songs to be a part of a much bigger stage production, which would also include some of his other material from the time period. Instead, the concert performance was recorded and filmed the following year and released (the soundtrack is excellent, by the way ).
Because this is such a classic album that I'm sure most of you are at least somewhat familiar with, I'll dispense with a more in-depth history here. Instead, for those of you who would like more information (even those who think they already know it all, like me ), I highly recommend you check out the full Wikipedia article, which describes the album and history much more effectively than I could ever hope to. It's full of interesting stories and sub-plots, many of which were news to me. Here's the link to the entry: Wikipedia: Ziggy Stardust
All-told, this album was used as a blueprint for glam and punk rockers around the world in the late 70s and early 80s. The obvious influence of the mighty Ziggy Stardust can be heard in the music (and image ) of countless hard rockers. Even today, early Bowie should be considered mandatory for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a rock musician. In that light, I'd say that this album is:
RockHard required listening for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a rock fan.
The Bottom Line (AKA - The Six-Pack Scale):