If I were going to pick an early David Bowie album to discuss, this would not have been it, but a discussion group I joined will sink their teeth into this album, so I have it a couple of spins.
Wikipedia has a very detailed description of the album, songs and tour that resulted from the album. I am going to borrow from that source as well as others for facts, but not opinions and critique.
Of the early albums, Diamond Dogs is my favorite, but after some serious listening, I I like Ziggy Stardust quite a bit. In discussing the work of Bowie, one cannot escape discussing Bowie, as his persona inhabits most of his album, particularly his 1970s work. He slipped in and out of various personas during the decade as his style of music evolved. He was Ziggy for awhile, the alien who comes to Earth to save us. This was during the glam era of the early 1970s, androgynous, where sexual identity is nebulous with hair and dress often wild and flamboyant. Ziggy, sort of named for Iggy Pop, represented this combination of male and female traits, a person of theatrical appearance but otherwise mysterious. Somehow, the glam style was of little interest to me, and I no doubt overlooked some great music. The punk era, and new wave eras were the same; forget the style and give me the best music from those terrible fashions and stage presence.
Bowie’s first several albums were challenging for me to absorb, I focused on a few songs here and there. If there was a concept, it did not interest me much, it was the songs, not the theater that won me over. The first Bowie album I got was his ChangesOneBowie, a greatest hits collection of his work through Station to Station. This collection was easy to appreciate and gradually I investigate some of the albums represented on this set.
Bowie’s band during this period was a good one: Mick Ronson (guitar, keyboards, string arrangements), Trevor Bolder (bass, trumpet) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). Bowie contributed guitar, sax and string arrangements, as well as produced the album with engineer Ken Scott (Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Rolling Stones). Rick Wakeman had worked with Bowie, but moved on to join Yes as the keyboard extraordinaire.
Many critics would say this was an early, significant step in Bowie’s songwriting and production, and I would agree. His previous album, Hunky Dory, even though it had that great song, “Changes”, did not really impress me. I am certainly open to revisiting that album. Bowie was a prolific writer in these days, he wrote everything on the album except one song, and had an album always in the pipeline despite touring.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – Here are my thoughts, almost 50 years after it was released. I like the production on this album, it is very much of the era. Trident Studios where it was recorded, was a popular studio with top British bands. The unsung hero of this album (and others) was Mick Ronson, a very underrated guitar player of the era. Although his keyboards were functional, it was his guitar that gave early Bowie sound, the bite.
“Five Years” – 4:42 In a way, this reminds me of early Elton John, elaborate string arrangements and predominant piano.
“Soul Love” – 3:34 This song has a grungy sound, with the sax and distorted guitar riffs. Bolder’s bass moves around almost like a ska beat. This is a minor gem.
“Moonage Daydream” – 4:40 Lots of acoustic guitar and piano, typical of British rock, then overlaying some distorted guitar fills. This is quirky song that could almost fit in a Spaghetti Western. The outro on this song is quite good, courtesy of Ronson.
“Starman” – 4:10 A big hit in the UK, but a moderate one in the US. A catchy melody with some interesting touches on the choruses.
“It Ain’t Easy” (Ron Davies) – 2:58 Not sure why Bowie included this, while it is a very good song, it has a different style than the other songs on the album. Rick Wakeman plays the harpsicord on the song.
“Lady Stardust” – 3:22 Another Elton John style piano song. A really good chorus, a singalong. Ronson plays the piano, nice work.
“Star” – 2:47 A fast-paced piano song. Bowie multi-tracks his vocals, which he does throughout the album. Not a great song, but it is nicely produced.
“Hang On to Yourself” – 2:40 A fast, driving guitar song. Very melodic. It sounds like early Clash with its energy and basic production.
“Ziggy Stardust” – 3:13 Great guitar riff song. Ronson soars on this song. Plenty of airplay in its day.
“Suffragette City” – 3:25 More great guitar and piano riffing from Ronson. Bowie’s sax sails in the background. A great rocker. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” – 2:58 Guitar and horns, a slow song that builds to a theatrical crescendo to end the album, and whatever story was constructing through his lyrical concept.