Living To Music – David Bowie ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’




YEAR: 1972

This Sunday (Jan 2nd), at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:

I’ve probably listened to ‘Ziggy Stardust’ more than any other album. As with so many others, my Bowie obsession began on July 6th 1972 (when I was 12) with the mesmerising ‘Starman’ performance on Top Of The Pops. It was a seminal Pop moment – I mentioned it back in October in the ‘Hazy Cosmic Jive’ blog post:

After buying a copy of ‘Starman’ I picked up his previous single, ‘Changes’, from Strothers, a local record shop in Liscard. I can remember being stood in one of the old style listening booths whilst the shop assistant played it for me. ‘Changes’ hadn’t even entered the lower region of the UK chart when it was issued, it had been a total flop (as was the album it was taken from, the now acknowledged classic ‘Hunky Dory’), but I was absolutely blown-away by it, as I was by his next single ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ (not to mention the one after that, ‘The Jean Genie’, a parting shot for ’72 that packed a real punch).

However, despite an incredible run of great singles, the real discovery was the albums. During the school holidays in 1973 I got a job, working in a local amusement arcade, and with my wages I bought a Bowie LP every week, until I had everything available – seven albums in all at the time, dating back to compilations of his early stuff in the ’60s. I was now a total Bowie freak, absorbed in his words and music. I tagged my name using ‘Aladdin Sane’ type lightning streaks for the Gs in Greg, and dyed my hair in Ziggy homage. It wasn’t until 1975, when he entered his Soul phase, that this fixation subsided (although I liked the ‘Young Americans’ album, I was already grounded in Soul music, so this wasn’t  a new direction for me, as it would have been for many other Bowie fans).

Looking back, I realise that it was Ziggy rather than Bowie per se that I idolised, and by Ziggy I mean the Spiders too, for this was a more than a solo artist, it was a beast of a band:

The Spiders.  The stuff of legend, rock n roll style.  Nothing as worldly as The Crickets or The Beatles.  These insects were from Mars. At first they were The Rats (from Hull, birthplace to all Spiders). Then (Mick) Ronson was lured into the Bowie fold, followed at intervals by drummer Woody Woodmansey, then bassist Trevor Bolder.  After recording the Ziggy Stardust album it was decided that to promote the record these three should be dubbed The Spiders From Mars.  Thus they were restyled, from head to toe, and the illusion was complete …. Weird and Gilly – Trevor and Woody.  Not as noticeable as the multi-talented Ronno, but an essential part of the drama.  And they knew how to play.  The Spiders were a hot band.  The hard thing for Trevor and Woody was all the attention devoted to Bowie and Ronno, of which they got to share little.  And when the band broke up they slipped back into obscurity, though Trevor would surface a few years later with Uriah Heep.  The Spiders From Mars.  What would Ziggy have done without them?

Mick Rock (1984)

I could go on and on about ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and its incalculable impact on British popular culture (it was only a minor hit in the US, where Bowie wouldn’t take centre stage for another couple of years), but why bother when there’s such a wonderful a web resource as this for you to explore at your leisure, if you so wish – The Ziggy Stardust Companion:

Your own memories are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session,  it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars Wikipedia:

Living To Music Facebook Event Page:

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22 Responses to Living To Music – David Bowie ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’

  1. minibreakfast December 31, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    For those who don’t currently own this album, I saw the CD in HMV for only £3 this week – get it for Sunday night! Happy listening all, am really looking forward to this one.

  2. Paul Wright January 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    This is the first Bowie album of my collection and the first time I’ve listened to it. There were two tracks I’ve heard before, I found myself focusing more on sounds than meaning. The musical style feels quite unusual, a real fusion and some great composition (awesome piano sections, lovely acoustic guitar, vocal harmonies, saxophone and orchestral movements). Bowie certainly has a unique vocal style that feels raw and contained. The album brought to me a fusion of sounds with elements to me of Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, The Beatles, Rhythm and Blues, Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Jazz. Definitely need to listen to this again! 🙂

    Happy New Year

  3. dancing james January 3, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    As ever these listening sessions tend to evaluate artists again. Wierdly this was not in my collection – I have a number of other Bowie albums. Its always surprising to realise how much I actually recognise of Bowies album tracks, its as if he has pervaded a lot of my life through stealth.

    I love Bowie, his vocal delivery is rarely perfect, and the weird diction that is so characteristic. But he can then emulate classic American soul or blues (for example It Aint Easy). He has an ability to use noise and cacophony in his music, tracks descending into Beatlesesque barrages of noise but still remaining a pop edge.

    Bowie is someone who I must admit I love for his weird take on pop music, Starman hits the spot perfectly. It also demonstrates his canny self awareness, something that is now such a common theme in pop music but really did not seem so apparent back then. The opening bars of the song sonically remind me of Slanted era Pavement, but it then lifts off into the classic chorus, with early synths and strings working together in magic harmony. Concept albums can be such a dodgy proposition but this play on the notion of the rock and roll star is so well executed, I remember seeing the concert movie as a kid and being baffled but intrigued by it.

    Hearing the final 3 songs again just made me want to jump up and down, play air guitar and preen around my room, totally embarassing but a reminder of how infectious I find his music. Somehow as an artist he has generally maintained a sense of cool throughout his career, the canny ability to reinvent again and again, adopting music but adding his own stamp. Its very hard for me to think of Bowie without all the usual cliches coming to mind.

    I think I may have to listen to Low now. Just to remind me of the range that he has covered.

  4. greg wilson January 3, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Given my personal experience with this record I sometimes fail to realise that, despite its classic status, this is far from an album that most people have previously heard – so it’s not surprising that its legacy has become somewhat shrouded during more recent times.

    Apart from The Beatles, and, later in the 70’s, the Sex Pistols, no British recording artist has made such a cultural impact as Bowie did when he released ‘Ziggy Stardust’. These were events that inspired people to form bands, or become songwriters, or pursue other artistic endeavours across the whole creative spectrum. Yet this has failed to fully translate, maybe because Bowie’s music became increasingly less relevant after the 70’s (although his greatest commercial success was during the first half of the 80’s). If you asked people born after this LP was unleashed with such a force in ’72 (or those too young to appreciate its significance at the time) to name a Bowie track, I’d imagine the one that most would think of would be ‘Let’s Dance’ (1983), but this was a vastly different Bowie to the Ziggy days.

    ‘Let’s Dance’ is a good track, but nothing groundbreaking – it certainly doesn’t reflect the gravity of the artist who made remarkable albums like ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Aladdin Sane’ etc. In many respects ‘Let’s Dance’ has as much to do with its producer, Nile Rodgers, as it does with Bowie himself, whereas with ‘Ziggy’ you’re in the presence of an artist right at the cusp of his creativity, freed to take on the mantle of superstardom (before the album had sold a single copy) by devising a genius alter-ego and having the balls to fully assume the role.

    The fact that some people have listened to ‘Ziggy Stardust’ for the first time as a result of this L2M session is what makes the whole Living To Music thing worthwhile – in this instance providing an environment in which to discover Bowie from the right entry point, which will hopefully give a taste, for those who weren’t around to experience his impact first hand, of just why his legacy is so important.

  5. cezza January 3, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Listening to the album, which I was not familiar with, more hunky dory, aladdin sane etc, brought back intense memories for me, as a typical moody/isolated teenager, I would use Bowie as pure escapism and his music brought a real release for me from the madness of life, believe it or not. I find myself glorifying in the theatrics of his music in much the same way as the masses throw themselves into Bohemian Rhapsody.

    I will listen to this album again,this time on a decent system when our amp is finally fixed, Adored the experience of listening, it gave me great relief from the cabin fever I was experiencing, funnily enough I got the most of Bowie by listening alone in my room, a couple of friends liked him more towards the 80’s, but this album really represents to me the overall sound and feel of him that I loved so much, Ziggy Stardust and Starman are something else but its, rock n roll suicide is the ultimate for me on this album, I was thrilled to recall all those tracks that had been so lost to me for so many years, I find the overall sound of Bowie satisfyingly soulful,.

    Thanks again Greg for reminding us, absolutely brilliant idea, so……….whats next!?

  6. TC January 3, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Still as sexy and subversive in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. Lyrics that create visual images that leave an indelible imprint on the brain. Once heard, never forgotten.
    Musically Bowie and the Spiders create space age rock and roll that absolutely doesn’t sound dated heard some 38 years later.

  7. Dan Soulsmith January 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I’d never listened to this album until the L2M session last night. I listened to it again today while cleaning the house. Come to think of it I’ve never listened to a Bowie album in its entirety! well, apart from the compilation CD ‘Changes Bowie’ which I robbed from my mum before I left home to study at university. ‘Changes Bowie’ is still a firm favourite on our car stereo! (13 years later I should really give it back to my mum!) Anyhow, Ziggy Stardust was a great opportunity to listen to Bowie’s music in original artistic context – that of a considered album format.

    I found this L2M live listening experience a bit different. Partly because of the end of Christmas / New Year feeling that I always get. Also, Bowie, and Roxy Music are so deeply rooted in my family, My Mum, Dad, all my aunties, uncles and older cousins are / where huge fans. So this coupled with post Christmas blues, seemed to create a timely ambience and reflective mood for this L2M session.

    Also, I’ve just returned home with more unwanted vinyls given to me by my relatives this Christmas, so this was yet another reminder of a time when more people avidly collected albums and 7 inches, of a time when music formats where more cherished and possibly when more time was dedicated to listening to such purchases as a source of entertainment. A time when there where only 3 TV channels, before computer games, mobile phones and social networks, when listening to a full vinyl LP was more of a tradition than it is today? Such thoughts make me value the Living To Music project more!

    A few years ago I was completely blown away by the opening scenes of ‘Control’, the biographical film about Ian Curtis. This sold 70s Bowie to me! It also perfectly illustrates the influence that early Bowie had on Curtis and other artists at this time, as Greg mentions in his comment above.
    You can watch the first 10 minutes of the film here:

    So we really enjoyed listening to Ziggy Stardust. I was really surprised by how short it is! I’m overly familiar with ‘Starman’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ ‘It Aint Easy’, and ‘Suffragette City’ (which I love), but thanks to L2M I’m now absorbing 6 Bowie tracks that I’d never heard.

    Cheers Greg and happy New Year to all.

  8. Dan Soulsmith January 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Here’s another genius modern movie moment featuring a homage to 70s Bowie (& Brian Ferry). From the film ‘Flashbacks of a Fool’ (starring Daniel Craig): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF8JyTRW4nI

    Greg, is this you in 75? 😉

  9. nadia January 3, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    The nobody people were really somebody people. When it seemed impossible to find your place in the ordinary world you could follow in Ziggy’s tracks. A soundtrack to choreograph your strangeness to.

  10. BrianE January 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Haven’t heard the majority of this album before and I enjoyed the inventivness and diversity of the sounds/tracks. ‘It Aint Easy’ with the slide guitar and almost Delta Blues influence and feel was my favourite! Other tracks really ‘Rocked Out’ good style, such as Sufragette City. The storytelling of Bowie was slightly muted by my current lack of a decent sound system but as always with the albums in the ‘Living To Music’ I’ll going to listen to it again.

    After listening to this we checked out a few more David Bowie tracks and had a bit of a Bowie Night’ Great Stuff!!!

  11. minibreakfast January 4, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    I only heard this album for the first time last summer when I found the LP at a car boot sale – the best quid I’d spent in ages! I really enjoyed listening to it again on Sunday, it’s a stone-cold classic from beginning to end. Big hits aside, tracks like Lady Stardust and Five Years are just a joy to listen to. I wasn’t born until 2 years after this came out and it wasn’t in my parents’ otherwise excellent record collection so it’s been a real gem of a find for me. Listening alone on headphones in the knowlege that others were doing so at the same time on Sunday made it even more fun, so thanks Greg!

    Suggestions for the future:
    Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
    Yazoo – Upstairs at Eric’s
    Kraftwerk – Computer World

  12. Marc J January 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    What an awesome album, Ziggy has always been one of my favorite tracks by Bowie, such a great melody and the guitar riff is superb, but having listened to the whole album in one go(for the first time) the most memorable song for me has to be starman, what a melody, it’ll be in my head for weeks!! There are so many different themes and ideas in one album and in some cases one song, absolute genius!!! If I had half his talent I think I would implode!!

  13. Meeko January 7, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    This was a great choice for LTM and was one of the most anticipated for me as i hold the album close to my heart. I first heard tracks from this album about 4 years ago, when one night, or rather one early morning after being out on the road with the Wilson. I’d dabbled in a couple of chemicals so was pretty spannered by the time we had got back to Greg’s. Greg would sometimes play a couple of tracks as a night cap and on one particular occasion lying on the couch with my eyes closed(or was it my magic carpet) i first heard the drums slowly coming in that sounded like a distant heartbeat then…..’Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing, news had just come over, we had five years left to cry in…….whaaaa!! And that was my introduction to the infamous Ziggy and those Spiders. It left a big impression on me as i hadnt really listened to Bowie before and bizarrely when i went home that day i found the LP in my collection. I listened to it over and over and was nothing like i had ever heard before.

    Luckily for me i had Ziggy bought for me on CD by aforementioned GW, and literally had it jammed in my CD player in the car for weeks.

    Listening to this album reminds me of a musical, as though there should be a theatrical production made for the album similar to a Rocky Horror or something , with this as a soundtrack.

    Great choice and look forward to the next one

  14. Gavin Kendrick January 7, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    It was the infamous Liverpool bartender Roy Dickinson who first opened my ears to Bowie, via the unmistakable guitar solo on ‘Let’s Dance’, performed by one of his musical heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    I was unaware how much Bowie’s sound had evolved through the years, and was quite taken aback when we sat down to listen to ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ on Sunday.

    The first thing that struck me was the loudness of the opening track. The boldness of this epic introduction is gripping, and the confidence that the whole album exudes had me hooked. The Spiders From Mars deliver an electric performance throughout, and Bowie’s far out lyrics are captivating.

    “Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe
    Put your ray gun to my head
    Press your space face close to mine, love
    Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!”

    After listening to the album on Sunday, we watched ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, a documentary and concert film of the 1973 show at the Hammersmith Odeon. It didn’t take long before I realised that I’d joined the ranks of thousands before me and been instantly-converted to a bona fide Bowie freak.

  15. Alexis January 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    OMG! I could not sit down, I could not, not air guitar, I could not, not sing along.
    I am 10 or 11, I have sneaked this album from my brothers room and have it on the living room stereo, bin-lid sized cans on my head, squeezed in next to the telly, trying to be unobtrusive, and screaching at the top of my head. No wonder my younger brother (whose album it was) was constantly telling me to shut up! I thought I was Ziggy, he thought I was a caterwauling banshee, I think we were both right!
    There is nothing i don’t like about this album, lived with it, loved it, still loving it, in fact was re-listening yesterday so loud and in the moment in the kitchen, i couldn’t hear my daughter knocking and yelling at the door to be let in!
    Aaaaaah David Bowie, a genius, a loony, an auteur, a kook, just made me want to listen to the bewlay brothers and Queen Bitch.
    Kin awesome choice Greg, Wham Bam Thank you Mam!
    Give me more x

  16. Alexis January 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    And Meeko, It should soooooooo be a musical!

  17. Lou Lou January 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I was originally introduced to bowie’s albums at about 17 by an older workmate. I always thought i had heard this album in its entirity, but once again, i found surprises. Settled back, listening on a fantastic system, the first track crashed in and blew me away. As a teen rocker I obviously hadn’t appreciated how heavy the Spiders were. Loved every minute of it and felt badly in need of pressing replay immediately, as it seemed to end all to soon.

    So look forward to these sessions each month – cheers Greg and everyone 🙂

  18. Vics January 14, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Never really heard this album much before, but when i did, thanks to L2M, i remarked upon how sexy it is! Loud and bold and in your face! David Bowie is, and always will be a musical guru and legend to the masses. Suffragette City and Ziggy are my fave tracks and i played air guitar all the way through both of them. Weird and Crazy Rock N Roll baby!…. This album will live on forever.

    Good choice Greg!! Big loves to you man! xx

  19. Liddle Timmy January 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    14 years old, just, had this poster of bowie at the foot of my bed. Got my sister to cut my hair

    and dye it red, next day i was sent home from school.

    Had not heard this album for many years, what a flippin genius, it sounded so accomplished,

    so full of confidence, what a clever lad. Love him…..x

  20. gina January 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I listened to a lot of Bowie as a young teenager, thanks to an obsessed Bowie fanatic I shared a room with. She had all the albums, but I went out and bought Changes One and Two, and yes, later, Let’s Dance (so I could try and copy the moves on the cover). Oh well! I bought Ziggy ahead of this month’s Classic Album Sundays at The Hanbury, and listened through once, but didn’t want to spoil the impact of a full listen through last night. It sounded very good on the system and Cosmo played an interview with Bowie just before which was quite special – he has a lovely voice. Standout tracks for me had always been Five Years, Starman and Suffragette City (which is hard to sit still through), but the listening session added a few more tracks: Soul Love, It Ain’t Easy (for its Stones-ey feel), and the grand finale of Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. However, I still didn’t get a cohesive album feel from this one (sound-wise as opposed to theme-wise), and will skip the odd track when re-listening.

  21. mark January 18, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    Well the classic album listening made the news this morning.

  22. Faci Piers December 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    Great article Greg Wilson! Continue wonderful work and keep blogging with article just like it.

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