The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

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The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is a 1972 concept album by David Bowie, praised as the definitive album of the 1970s by Melody Maker magazine. It peaked at #5 in the United Kingdom and #75 in the United States on the Billboard Music Charts.

In 1997 Ziggy Stardust was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 24, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 48.



The album presents the story, albeit vaguely, of Ziggy Stardust, a Martian who comes to earth to liberate humanity from banality. Ziggy Stardust is the definitive rock star, sexually promiscuous, wild in drug intake and with a message, ultimately, of peace and love; but he is destroyed by his own excesses of drugs and sex, and torn apart by the fans he inspired. The mythological story cycle of the doomed Messiah endeared itself to fans then and now.

The plot of Ziggy Stardust was expanded on in the 1976 movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, which starred David Bowie in the title role.

The album was released in the UK on June 6, 1972, and later in the US on September 1, 1972. The single "Starman" was released on April 28, 1972 to promote the album.

The name may come from Iggy Pop (singer, friend of Bowie) and/or Twiggy (model, friend of Bowie), and Bowie has claimed that it came from a tailor's shop in London called Ziggy's; he claims to have chosen the name because the album was going to be all about clothes. Bowie later told Rolling Stone it was "one of the few Christian names I could find beginning with the letter 'Z'." "Stardust" comes from one of Bowie's labelmates, a country singer named Norman Carl Odom, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. (Bowie covered a Legendary Stardust Cowboy song, "I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship", 30 years later on his critically acclaimed Heathen album.)

The album cover has become an object of veneration for fans (similar to Abbey Road), who make pilgrimages to see the exact spot. The phone box depicted on the back cover was removed in 1998.

The album is considered archetypal glam rock, full of hard rock guitar riffs, catchy choruses and confusing, opiate lyrics. It is both gloomy, as in the first song, "Five Years", where it is revealed that the Earth will be destroyed in five years, and joyous, as in the optimism of Ziggy in "Starman". Though Bowie's previous albums had built him a serious fanbase (particularly the hit song "Space Oddity"), his music was largely inaccessible and avant-garde. Ziggy Stardust was still innovative and pioneering, but was also accessible to people who couldn't hear or understand the significance of Bowie's revolutionary techniques and style. Songs like "Starman", "Suffragette City", "Five Years", "Lady Stardust" and "Ziggy Stardust" are strange mixtures of pop rock and art rock. Mick Ronson's guitar work is especially beloved on this album; on previous Bowie compositions, he had displayed talent and occasional spots of brilliance (e.g., Hunky Dory's "Queen Bitch") but he shone on this album, playing the chords that (in the story) awakened the consciousness of humanity.

Antecedents and influences

Many of Bowie's songs are homages to his favorite musicians, frequently with chords and styles taken and reinterpreted in a glam rock fashion. "Star" begins similarly to The Who's "Pinball Wizard" (off Tommy), while surf rock (such as The Beach Boys) influenced "Suffragette City". Most of the other songs are pure glam rock, influenced by Labelle, T. Rex, Gary Glitter, Ray Davies, Alice Cooper, Queen, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, among others.

Many of the songs on this album show Bowie's predilection for inserting powerful exhalations, usually nothing more than a "ha" or "ah" shouted with great intensity. One more complex (and memorable) example is on "Suffragette City" where the most memorable line, the frantically shouted "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" was an improvised replacement for "one more time". Similarly simple two-syllable phrases provide the spine for "Suffragette City" ("hey man"), "Hang Onto Yourself" ("come on"), and "Five Years" ("five years"). Of particular note is the last, "Five Years", the album's opener, where the title is hoarsely shouted repeatedly, each time more and more powerful as though Bowie was having a breakdown in the studio. "Star" is a memorably pure rock and roll song, describing the beauty of being a rock star; it is Ziggy's dream, ending with the prophetic "watch me now". "Starman", the album's single, has been described as a cross between mod and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Jim Bickhart, Phonograph Record Magazine (July 1972)) with an exhilarating chorus of Ziggy sending a message to Earthlings via the radio, warning them that he will come to liberate their minds if they are ready for it. "Soul Love" is notable for Bowie's pioneering and original use of a jazzy saxophone.

The glam rock sound on Ziggy Stardust comes from early pioneers in the field of gender-bending, heroin-drenched hard rock powered by climactic guitar riffs and bass-heavy beats. Bands like Mott the Hoople (Mott the Hoople - 1969) and T. Rex (Prophets Seers & Sages the Angels of the Ages - 1968) helped to create the sound of glam rock, contributing a heavy metal and folk aspect, respectively, along with Deep Purple's (Deep Purple - 1969) metallic prog rock. Bowie mixed this early combination with the frenetic proto-punk of the Stooges (The Stooges - 1969) and the contemplative, dark and melodic proto-punk of the Velvet Underground (White Light/White Heat - 1967). Dark psychedelia, like the Doors (The Doors - 1967) and early concept albums like Tommy (1969; the Who) influenced the lyrical direction of the album.

The influence of Ziggy Stardust within the history of music

Ziggy Stardust was a monumental album in music history. Its sound has changed the way heavy metal, punk music, hard rock, glam rock and prog rock sound. The direct descendants were later glam musicians like the glam-metal of Alice Cooper (Billion Dollar Babies - 1973), the glam-disco of Labelle (Nightbirds - 1974) and the glam-pop of Gary Glitter (Touch Me - 1973). Heavy metal began with bands like Blue Cheer (Vincebus Eruptum - 1968) and the Yardbirds (Five Live Yardbirds - 1964); in the post Ziggy Stardust world, heavy metal evolved towards glam metal bands like Mötley Crüe (Too Fast For Love - 1981) and Van Halen (Van Halen - 1978) through the occult bands of the mid to late 1970s, like Blue Öyster Cult (Tyranny and Mutation - 1973) and Black Sabbath (Sabotage - 1975), and metallic prog rock like Yes (Tales From Topographic Oceans - 1974). Ziggy Stardust (along with other notable albums, such as The New York Dolls - 1973) also combined the two types of proto-punk, the energetic power of the Stooges and the avante-garde lyrical and musical aspects of the Velvet Underground, resulting in early punk musicians like Elvis Costello & the Attractions (My Aim Is True - 1977), Adam & the Ants (Kings of the Wild Frontier - 1980) and Graham Parker (Howlin' Wind - 1976) before the first wave of true hardcore punk music, with the Jam (In the City - 1977), the Clash (The Clash - 1977) and the Ramones (The Ramones - 1976), as well as the more artistic punk of Patti Smith (Horses - 1975) and Television (Marquee Moon - 1977). In the 1990s, shoegazing and Britpop bands like Suede (Dog Man Star - 1994), Morrissey (Viva Hate - 1988) and My Bloody Valentine (Isn't Anything - 1988) showed a strong Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie influence.

Bauhaus, one of the first English gothic rock bands, incorporated much Ziggy-era style & nuance into their own music. It is easy to see a very direct evolution in the musical sound & spirit of the English glam rock movement in all of the early English Goth bands. It is of interesting note that the Bauhaus cover version of 'Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars' is still played very regularly in Gothic nightclubs. But the influence stretchs much further throughout the entire Bauhaus discography, and the solo recordings of Daniel Ash, the guitarist of Bauhaus. Anyone who appreciates English glam will find a goldmine in the recordings of Bauhaus.

On a more recent note, notorious shock rocker Marilyn Manson openly admits to be heavily inspired by Ziggy Stardust. This is most apparent in the Glitter-Rock opus Mechanical Animals, as the album is, aesthetically, very similar to Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane looks. However, the earlier album, Antichrist Superstar, has a plotline that follows the same pattern as Ziggy (both are 'rise and fall' stories), and the songs "Minute of Decay" and "Man That you Fear" both have musical elements similar to Bowie.

On his latest album, Moby has included a song called Spiders, which was influenced by his deep love for David Bowie. It is thought the title is a reference to this album, and Ziggy's backing band, the Spiders From Mars.

The anarchist punk rock band Crass were so named as a reference to the song "Ziggy Stardust", specifically the line "The kids was just crass". (Reference; Shibboleth by Penny Rimbaud, AK Press, 1999).

In the song "Ziggy Stardust", reference is made to Ziggy's backup band, the Spiders From Mars. As a result of that reference, Bowie's backup band also became known as the Spiders From Mars.

The Spiders From Mars

Some quotes from Bowie on Ziggy Stardust

"I fell for Ziggy too. It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character. I became Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie went totally out the window. Everybody was convincing me that I was a Messiah, especially on that first American tour. I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy."
"Ziggy, particularly, was created out of a certain arrogance. But, remember, at that time I was young and I was full of life, and that seemed like a very positive artistic statement. I thought that was a beautiful piece of art, I really did. I thought that was a grand kitsch painting. The whole guy. Then that fucker would not leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to sour. And it soured so quickly you wouldn't believe it. And it took me an awful time to level out. My whole personality was affected. Again I brought that upon myself. I can't say I'm sorry when I look back, because it provoked such an extraordinary set of circumstances in my life. I thought I might as well take Ziggy to interviews as well. Why leave him on stage? Looking back it was completely absurd. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity. I can't deny that the experience affected me in a very exaggerated and marked manner. I think I put myself very dangerously near the line. Not in physical sense but definitively in mental sense. I played mental games with myself to such an extent that I'm very relieved and happy to be back in Europe and feeling very well. But, then, you see I was always the lucky one."

Track listing / Explanation of the story arc

  1. "Five Years" - 4:42
    • Story: The Earth is doomed to destruction in five years; the aftermath of this knowledge
    • Bowie chose the length of time, five years, as a result of a dream in which his deceased father told him he must never fly again and would die in five years
  2. "Soul Love" - 3:33
    • On the different possible kinds of love, with "soul love" being the vastly most important
    • Stone love = love for the departed; new love = romantic, lusty love; soul love = religious, adulatory love; idiot love = degenerate, painful love
  3. "Moonage Daydream" - 4:37
    • Story: The alien messiah is revealed/created, and his destiny to save the world from the disaster in "Five Years" is also hinted at, as well his fate as the quintessential "soul lover".
    • In terms of the plot, this is one of the most important songs as it describes the creation of Ziggy from a combination of religion, romance, sexual freedom, rebellion and passion; he metamorphoses into the archetypal rock star.
  4. "Starman" - 4:16
    • Ziggy is "a starman, waiting in the sky/He'd like to come and meet us/But he thinks he'd blow our mind"
    • Story: Ziggy contacts a human youth through the radio. He promises salvation but is weary and worried about his impact
  5. "It Ain't Easy" - 2:57
    • Story: Ziggy struggles to become accepted as a rock 'n' roll star
    • This is the only song not written by David Bowie; it was written by Ron Davies
    • This was originally recorded during the Hunky Dory sessions
  6. "Lady Stardust" - 3:21
    • Story: Ziggy's impact on people as young men learn to express their self-beauty and feminine side (cross-dressing), eschewing self-denial
    • The original demo version features a Biblical reference to Peter's denial of knowing Jesus: "Oh! how I lied when they asked if I knew his name"
    • "I laughed at his long black hair/His animal grace" refers to Marc Bolan
    • "femme fatales" is a reference to The Velvet Underground
  7. "Star" - 2:47
    • Story: Ziggy's dream of the future for humanity
  8. "Hang Onto Yourself" - 2:38
    • Story: Ziggy and the Spiders rock it out; they may or may not be capable of hanging onto themselves and their sanity in the face of an insane, rock 'n' roll world of freedom and liberation
  9. "Ziggy Stardust" - 3:13
    • One of the Spiders describes Ziggy in the immortal words "Ziggy sucked up into his mind/Like a leper messiah/When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band"
    • Story: This song is a summary of the entire album; it was also the first song written.
    • Contrary to an oft-heard rumor, the song was not written with Jimi Hendrix in mind. Rather, Vince Taylor was the inspiration.
    • Bob Marley's son Ziggy Marley called himself so because of album/song being one of his favourites.
    • Contains two different versions of Ziggy's death, from his assassin and one of the Spiders from Mars
  10. "Suffragette City" - 3:25
    • Story: The perils of being a rock star
  11. "Rock N Roll Suicide" - 2:57
    • Story: The fall of Ziggy Stardust
    • The lyrics "Time takes a cigarette..." has its original roots in the poem "Chants Andalous" by Spanish poet Manuel Machado where he writes: "Life is a cigarette/Cinder, ash and fire/Some smoke it in a hurry/Others savour it." Bowie has also referred to its source as being from Baudelaire.

Chart positions

Billboard Music Charts (North America) - album

1973    Pop Albums             No. 75

Billboard Music Charts (North America) - singles

1972    Starman Pop Singles    No. 65

Production credits

pl:Ziggy Stardust


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