"I think that (Ziggy) would probably be fairly shocked that, one, I was still alive and that, two, I seem to have regained some sense of rationality about life and existence." - David Bowie in 1997.
Released 6th of June, 1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is widely regarded as the greatest concept album ever made. The album created its own mythology and universe and slotted it into reality. For David Bowie it marked the first of a number of personas that he would adopt throughout his career including Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.
The story: The Earth is doomed, with only five years left before it will be obliterated. However, a visitor from Mars comes to save the world in its darkest hour in the form of Ziggy. He has been watching the troubles below and eventually descends to Earth in the form of a rock superstar with his band the Spiders from Mars. Ziggy reaches the dizzy heights of stardom, but he is eventually consumed by his own success and destroyed by fame.
There are many theories that try to explain what the Ziggy Stardust story is about. One is that the entire album is about the rise and fall of Jimi Hendrix. It also has many parallels with the Bible and the life of Jesus. More likely is that the egomaniac Bowie viewed himself as the rock'n'roll saviour of Earth. This is borne out by Ziggy's bisexual and androgynous nature and the character's sweeping ambition, which mirrored Bowie's own. Bowie recognized the risks of stardom and viewed the world of the early 1970s as one of decay, as described in the song Five Years.
Bowie has also indicated that there were two main influences on the Ziggy Stardust character. One was an episode in which he thought he had met Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground, only to later discover that Reed had left the band and it was his lookalike replacement Doug Yule. This highlighted to Bowie the existence of the concept of the rock star, which was more important in some ways than the person behind the performance. The other inspiration for Ziggy was a rock star called Vince Taylor, real name Brian Holden. Holden was extremely eccentric and came to believe that he was the Messiah sent to save the world - just as the character in Bowie's album did.
The musical impact of the album was enormous. Bowie gave listeners in the 1970's a taste of what rock'n'roll was to become - a great show in which noone is as they seem and everything is a creation. Every song on the album is brilliant. The record also gave an indication of where Bowie was also headed, going through repeated phases of self-reinvention and adopting the personas of several other fictitious characters in conjunction with later albums. He also came close to fulfilling his own prophecy with years of heavy drug use and self-destructive behaviour.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
1. Five Years 4:42 (Bowie)
2. Soul Love 3:33 (Bowie)
3. Moonage Daydream 4:37 (Bowie)
4. Starman 4:16 (Bowie)
5. It Ain't Easy 2:57 (Ron Davies)
1. Lady Stardust 3:21 (Bowie)
2. Star 2:47 (Bowie)
3. Hang Onto Yourself 2:38 (Bowie)
4. Ziggy Stardust 3:13 (Bowie)
5. Suffragette City 3:25 (Bowie)
6. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide 2:57 (Bowie)
Producers: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Arranged by: David Bowie & Mick Ronson
David Bowie: guitar, saxophone & vocals
Mick Ronson: guitar, piano & vocals
Trevor Bolder: bass
Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey: drums
Studio: Trident Studios, 17 St Anne's Court, Wardour Street, Soho, London, UK.
Album info from The Ziggy Stardust Companion, www.5years.com.