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The Making of a Masterpiece: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars

ziggy stardust

Ziggy Stardust (Photo Credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot)

Singer, songwriter and actor, David Bowie was no doubt one of the most influential musicians of the 20th and early 21st century. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars were most likely his most enduring and memorable works. It was the glamorous rock, theatrics and celestial themes that Bowie was long remembered for, being completely different to what everyone else was doing at the time and arguably still today.

In the mid 1960s, Bowie met Vince Taylor who after drug abuse and a breakdown joined a cult that believed they were alien gods on Earth. Bowie both horrified and inspired by Taylor along with his fascination with space and science fiction, led him to develop a character based on Taylor as well as other influences such as Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. In 1972, the colourful and glamorous Ziggy Stardust came to life: the same year Bowie revealed his bisexuality, which was shocking at the time.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Photo Credit: ITV)

With his plan of making a more Rock ‘N’ Roll album following Hunky Dory, lifting inspirations from Velvet Underground, Marc Bolan, Iggy and the Stooges, Bowie took demos to producer Ken Scott. With the help of guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, Ken Scott carried out Bowie’s vision. Despite the band being from Hull in Yorkshire, Bowie’s concept of the album was that the band, the Spiders from Mars, didn’t even come from Earth.

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David Bowie and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars Producer Ken Scott (Photo Credit: Mick Rock)

Ken Scott, who co-produced Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pinups as well as TRAFOZS album, reveals the background in his memoir Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust. ‘He always described how he’d take bits and pieces from all over the place, put them in a melting pot and they’d come out being him’. The album celebrates many genre influences from punk, metal and glam, yet it grows away from these becoming its own sound: the iconic sound of Bowie. Not only were his musical influences varied and wide, he took inspiration from visual artists such as Andy Warhol, Japanese kabuki theatre, androgynous and glam rock style. Bowie’s synthesis of artists, collections of personalities and influences accumulated to a sum far greater than its parts and was what Bowie was all about. Bowie’s multi-media creativity and experimentation have made him a unique and captivating artist.

“I think I did play outside the boundaries of what is considered an area of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Some of it, just pure petulance, some of it was arrogance, some of it was unwitting, but, inevitably, I kept moving ahead. Ziggy, particularly, was created out of a certain arrogance. But, remember, at that time I was young and I was full of life, and that seemed like a very positive artistic statement. I thought that was a beautiful piece of art, I really did. I thought that was a grand kitsch painting. The whole guy.” – David Bowie, Melody Maker, 29 October 1977

His creation ‘Ziggy Stardust’ was named after a tailor’s shop that he saw from a train and the concept grew, with Ziggy becoming an omnisexual, androgynous alien rock star that was sent to Earth. Channelling an alien from a dystopian alternate reality, Ziggy takes the role of a messenger that delivers the message of the concept album that humanity was in its final five years of existence. Beginning as a hopeful and wild rock star, Ziggy is eventually destroyed by his own excesses and fans.

Ziggy Stardust (Photo Credit: Mick Rock)

The part alien, part rock star character of Ziggy was so influential that Bowie carried his alter ego through the media following the release of the album. Unfortunately, as time went on Bowie came to doubt his own sanity, leaving the character behind and moving forward to a new alter ego and Bowie era. Regardless, it is the years around Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust’s release that are often regarded as his golden era.  Ziggy Stardust – a legendary creation

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David Bowie recording The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives)

Although TRAFOZS was not the first concept album, Bowie was the first to make a concept album in such a vigorous and concise way. When the album was released, Bowie’s manager Tony Defries encouraged Bowie to act like a star in order to become one, which proved to be a hugely successful strategy. Bowie’s use of his art to manipulate life showed hegemonic power over culture, which he is still recognised for today. The album was far bigger than the concept and is established as one of the greatest albums of all time by many publications including Rolling Stone, Q, Time and NME. In 2017, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally and artistically significant.

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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Album Cover 1972

Publishing music from 1964 until his untimely death in 2016, Bowie had notched up an incredible 27 studio albums, 11 live albums, 51 compilation albums and 128 singles. His final album, Blackstar, was released only 2 days before his death in January 2016. Moving effortlessly through Art Rock to Glam Rock, to Post Punk, Pop and Electronic, Bowie is the subject of dozens of books.

We are lucky enough to feature some of the best in our collection. The Terry O’Neill limited editions, the biography Ziggyology by Simon Goddard, The Golden Years by Roger Griffin, a day-by-day account of Bowie’s life from the start of 1970 to the end of 1980 are among the options we have to offer.

Check out our selection of David Bowie books at our online book store – Book

Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.

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