The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust) is a 1972 concept album by English musician David Bowie, which is loosely based on a story of a fictional rock star named Ziggy Stardust. It peaked at #5 in the UK and #75 in the US on the Billboard Music Charts. It was eventually certified platinum and gold in the UK and US respectively. The album tells the story of Bowie's alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Bowie created Ziggy Stardust while in New York City promoting the album Hunky Dory and performed as him on a tour of the UK, Japan and North America. The album, and the character of Ziggy Stardust, was known for its glam rock influences and themes of social commentary. These factors, coupled with the ambiguity surrounding Bowie's sexuality and fuelled by a ground-breaking performance of "Starman" on Top of the Pops, led to the album being met with controversy and since hailed as a seminal work. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has been consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it the 35th greatest ever. It was ranked the 20th greatest album ever in a 1997 British survey, the 24th greatest of all time by Q magazine and one of the 100 greatest releases ever by Time magazine. A concert film, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, was released in 1973.
The album presents, albeit vaguely, the story of a rock and roll character called Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is the human manifestation of an alien being who is attempting to present humanity with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence. Ziggy Stardust represents the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous, but with a message, ultimately, of peace and love. He is destroyed both by his own consumptions, and by the fans he inspired. The character of Ziggy was inspired by British rock 'n' roll singer Vince Taylor whom David Bowie met after Taylor had had a breakdown and believed himself to be a cross between a god and an alien; though Taylor was only part of the blueprint for the character, other influences included the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Kansai Yamamoto, who designed the costumes David wore during the tour. The Ziggy Stardust name came partly from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and partly, as Bowie told Rolling Stone, because Ziggy was "one of the few Christian names I could find beginning with the letter 'Z'". He later explained in a 1990 interview for Q magazine that the Ziggy part came from a tailor's shop called Ziggy's that he passed on a train, and he liked it because it had "that Iggy Pop connotation but it was a tailor's shop, and I thought, that this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy. So Ziggy Stardust was a real compilation of things." David covered a Legendary Stardust Cowboy song, "I Took a Trip (On a Gemini Spaceship)" thirty years later on the Heathen album.
The album was intended by Bowie to serve as the soundtrack and musical basis for a stage show and/or television production telling the story of Ziggy Stardust. As well as the songs on the album, David also intended songs such as "All the Young Dudes", "Rebel Rebel" and "Rock 'n' Roll With Me" (the latter two later recorded for Diamond Dogs) for this realisation of the Ziggy story. In a Rolling Stone interview with William S. Burroughs, Bowie expanded on the Ziggy Stardust story: "The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. 'All the young dudes' is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite... The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I've made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage... Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes 'Starman', which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately... The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox... Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song 'Rock 'n' roll suicide'. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible."
The Ziggy Stardust sessions began just a few weeks after Hunky Dory was released. The first song recorded at Trident Studios for the album, the cover "It Ain't Easy", was recorded in September 1971. The first session in November produced "Hang on to Yourself", "Ziggy Stardust", "Rock 'n' Roll Star" (later shortened to "Star"), "Soul Love", "Lady Stardust", "Five Years" and "Moonage Daydream".
Also recorded during the November Ziggy Sessions were two more cover songs intended for the as-yet untitled album. They were Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" (re-titled "Round and Round") and Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam" (re-titled "Port of Amsterdam"). A re-recording of "Holy Holy" (first recorded in 1970 and released as a single, to poor sales, in January 1971) was initially slated for Ziggy, but was dropped in favour of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide". "Round and Round" was replaced by "Starman" and "It Ain't Easy" replaced "Amsterdam" on the album's final running order. All three were eventually released as b-sides. "Velvet Goldmine", first recorded during the Hunky Dory sessions, was also intended for Ziggy, but was replaced by "Suffragette City". RCA released it in 1975 as the B-side to the UK re-release of "Space Oddity" after having it remixed and mastered without Bowie's approval. After recording some of the new songs for Sounds of the 70s with Bob Harris (which appear on Bowie at the Beeb) as the newly dubbed Spiders from Mars in January–February 1972, the band returned to Trident. They recorded "Starman", "Suffragette City" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" by the end of the month. "Starman", released as a single in April (and not intended for the final album at first), has never appeared in its original "loud" mix on CD. It differs somewhat in that it "features a subdued 'morse code' section between the verse and the chorus" compared to the original released in 1972. "Suffragette City", the b-side to "Starman", was mastered for the album with a three-note coda leading in from "Ziggy Stardust" to make the songs sound linked. They were never played as such by Bowie in concert.
Recorded and released during the ensuing Ziggy tour were two other songs. The first, "John, I'm Only Dancing", was recorded at Trident in late June and released (in the UK only) in September. "The Jean Genie", recorded at RCA Studios in New York in early October at the start of the American tour, was released in the US in November. The song was remixed for Aladdin Sane. Rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman was given the opportunity to play keyboards on the album but opted to join the progressive rock group Yes instead.
The album cover photograph was taken outside furriers "K. West" at 23 Heddon Street, London, W1., looking south-east towards the centre of the city. Bowie said of the sign, "It's such a shame that sign was removed." The post office in the background (now "The Living Room, W1" bar) was the site of London's first nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, which opened in 1912. As part of street renovations, in April 1997 a red "K series" phonebox was returned to the street, replacing a modern blue phonebox, which in turn had replaced the original phonebox featured on the rear cover. The rear cover of the original vinyl album bore the instruction "TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME". The instruction was omitted, however, from the EMI 1999 re-release.
The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010. In March 2012, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street and Heddon Street, installed a commemorative brown plaque at 23 Heddon Street in the same place as the "K. West" sign on the cover photo. The unveiling was attended by original band members Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, and by Gary Kemp. The plaque was the first to be installed by The Crown Estate and is one of the few plaques in the country devoted to fictional characters. The sign above Bowie's head was installed by Barry Lomax in the mid-1960s while working for the London depot of Brighton sign company Bush Signs.
1. Five Years
2. Soul Love
3. Moonage Daydream
5. It Ain't Easy (Ron Davies)
6. Lady Stardust
8. Hang on to Yourself
9. Ziggy Stardust
10. Suffragette City
11. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
David Bowie–vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, piano, harpsichord
Mick Ronson–electric guitar, backing vocals, keyboardsTrevor Bolder–bass
Dana Gillespie–backing vocals on "It Ain't Easy"
Rick Wakeman–Piano on "It Ain't Easy"
Ken Scott–producer, recording engineer, mixing engineerDavid Bowie–producer
This is the BBC documentary, The story of Ziggy Stardust, that narrates the birth and life of David Bowie's androgynous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, that catapulted him to stardom.