It’s a rather stunning realization that today marks 40 years since the release of David Bowie‘s 1972 classic: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I don’t know whether to celebrate or lament how old this makes me feel.
Since the latter would be unbearably depressing for all involved, I’ll choose the former!
Ziggy Stardust, especially for those of us in America, was nothing short of a mind-blowing introduction to Glam Rock. As NPR’s Bob Boilen, in his entertaining 40th anniversary reflection piece, puts it so well:
When Ziggy Stardust landed in America in 1972, almost no one cared. I remember working at Waxie Maxies, a record store in Rockville, Maryland, where we got a whopping total of 3 copies for our store, meaning that our store basically didn’t think it would sell. And frankly for good reason. None of David Bowie’s four previous albums sold. “Space Oddity” — the “ground control to Major Tom” song — was a hit in England in 1969, but few knew it here. Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, his second album for Mercury Records, could be found in the cut-out or overstock bins for $1.99 or less by 1972 (that’s how I got mine)…
And that moment, hearing that album, so fabulously recorded, with such brilliant playing, filled with songs like very little else in the world back then, it was simply one of those jaw dropping moments when you know you’ve found new music for life…
Some of what made Ziggy so fascinating and fun to play while hanging out with friends was trying to decode the record. Was Bowie Ziggy? What was the story here? Who played that wicked electric guitar? (It was Mick Ronson.) There was brilliant orchestration. I mean, who’s written a song as good as “Rock and Roll Suicide” recently? And the imagery on the cover, and the gender-bending that was new to most of us. Glam rock had its start with T-Rex, but honestly unless you read Melody Maker or some of the other British music tabloids, the U.S. was mostly a world of Neil Young, Neil Young clones (the band America) and “American Pie.”
While I never became a full-blown fan of Glam Rock in general, Ziggy Stardust will always hold a special place in my heart for being one of the most unique records I’ve ever heard, if not THE most unique.
And, listening to it now as I type this, or while I browsed YouTube clips to include here, I am struck by how well the album holds up. While it can’t help but sound dated for how easily it takes me back to the 1970s and all of the memories of my youth, “dated” isn’t always a negative thing. There are moments and musical elements on this album that have been revived many times, by many “new” bands over the years, and there’s nothing at all negative about something that powerfully influential.
So, Happy Birthday, Ziggy, and thanks, Mr. Bowie & Co. for such a beautiful musical gift.
Here’s the underrated and fabulous album opener, Five Years, featuring a TV-friendly glitterless presentation, followed by the title track and a personal favorite, Moonage Daydream, with Bowie and the band in all of their glam glory.