As much as I dislike rankings, I would definitely put The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at one of the top spots in a list of best albums. I’ll tell you the reasons why.
For those of you who are less familiar with this record, it is David Bowie’s fifth studio album released in 1972, that narrates the story of fictional alien character Ziggy Stardust. Supporting band, The Spiders from Mars is comprised of the same members as the previous album Hunky Dory, with the great Mick Ronson on electric guitar.
Contrary to what you might think, Ziggy Stardust was not an instant success. The character was first conceived with Bowie’s 1971 band Arnold Corns. This side project of Bowie’s was inconclusive until he decided to have another go. New versions of songs such as “Lady Stardust”, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Moonage Daydream” were later included in the 1973 album.
First of all, the story is catchy and brilliant. Not just a regular album, Ziggy Stardust captures the listener’s attention with a concept album of prime storytelling quality. An alien crashing on Earth with a sole purpose to warn the human race that there is only five years of life left on the planet. Eventually he gets consumed by his own bandmates and fans; a scenario extravagant enough to be brilliant.
Furthermore, the compositions are well-crafted. The album is composed of several hit singles such as “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City”. Bowie mixes a good balance of straight-up rock and roll as well as enchanting rock ballads with a perfect amount of sing-along melodies to make it popular.
Moreover, the lyrics are sexy. Right on the verge of provocation and incomprehension, they depict a raw but personal reality that Bowie truly embraces in the Ziggy persona. David becomes Ziggy to the point where he forgets who he is.
All in all, this is one of those perfect albums that transports you from start to finish without boredom. What made this story relatable and realistic is the important fact that Ziggy’s identity transcended into Bowie’s life.
However, this impersonation started to drive him crazy until the madness grew as a sickness. On July 3rd 1973, he actually committed the fictional “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide” at the Hammersmith Odeon by destroying the character. He ended the tour abruptly and The Spiders from Mars disbanded indefinitely.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” by David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3rd 1973.
Not only a shocking moment for the fans but also for the supporting band members that weren’t warned of the situation. The sequel in Aladdin Sane ended up being a less convincing resurrection.
The first David Bowie song I ever heard was “Suffragette City” on the video game Rock Band. Believe it or not, a lot of my musical discoveries were thanks to video games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero or even the radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto, Need For Speed and Burnout series.
If I can pinpoint exactly the elements that I adopted from this album in my music, I would say the idea of a concept album around a fictional character as well as Bowie’s singing style and some songwriting components.
Two of the most obvious inspirations for my song “Graves Of The Lullabies” were Bowie’s “Lady Stardust” and “Moonage Daydream”. I had this vision of a rock ballad that resembled the feel of these two songs, with a hint of David Gilmour’s guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”.
I highly suggest you listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at maximum volume1 for your own cultural knowledge.
The original record sleeve had an instruction stating “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME”. ↩