David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Happy New Year and welcome to the first YDCS of 2020! We’re one year and going strong here and looking forward to another year full of great music. To start off 2020 we’re kicking it back to 1972 with David Bowie’s loose concept rock opera, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Ziggy Stardust wasn’t David Bowie’s first big hit, that honor goes to Hunky Dory, but Ziggy Stardust make him a legend. Widely considered one of the best albums ever written, Ziggy Stardust tells the story of a bisexual, androgynous alien from space come to save the Earth. The story of the main character of the record, Ziggy Stardust, was written after the album was recorded, explaining why some of the songs don’t always appear to continue the story of the hero.
Ziggy Stardust is a tough album to unpack as it is prototypical glam rock. David Bowie was the leader of a movement with this genre-breaker of an album, and bands like KISS, Mott the Hoople, and Roxy Music can all trace their origins to Ziggy Stardust. Looking back at it, I think the album is generally more culturally significant for making David Bowie a relevant entertainer and pioneering a genre than it was for its own music. The album stands up on its own, particularly on its big hits, but the question we have to ask is ‘Do we like the album because it’s a David Bowie album or do we like the album on its own merit?’ Ziggy Stardust crams a lot of passion and a lot of different elements of rock and roll into a fairly short album that features some great singles. I hope you enjoy the adventure of Ziggy Stardust!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Five Years: I’ll give credit where credit is due, David Bowie knew how to start a record. “Five Years” is a hauntingly beautiful song that immediately capitalizes on the space theme with an ethereal echo that carries through the song. It really sets the stage for a space adventure! My favorite part of this song is the raw emotion in Bowie’s voice though. It’s somewhere between a pleading cry and shout that amplifies through the song. Really a good start! Dad’s Rating 6/10
Soul Love: “Soul Love” takes the album in a funkier, horn-driven direction that wouldn’t work on a lot of albums after a passionate ballad but somehow feels right at home on a space odyssey. It works so well because the soul is present on both songs, just in different ways. Sure, the vocals are powerful on both (more so on “Five Years” than on “Soul Love”) but the soul comes out in the instrumentation here where it comes out in the vocals on the former. Definitely an interesting way to tie two songs together but it works well. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Moonage Daydream: Let’s try to listen to this song outside of the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a minute… Yup. This holds up as a great song even when you do that! It’s the first real rocker that we get to hear on the album and it’s objectively a weird one too. There’s a lot of horn incorporation, a full string orchestra, and big guitar riffs and vocals. It all ties together into a glamorous, shiny song that doesn’t quite feel like it came from Earth. Bowie nailed it. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Starman: If we look at the big hits off Ziggy Stardust they can really be split into “Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City,” and this one, “Starman.” “Starman” is my favorite because it shows a more constrained side of Bowie that we don’t get to hear a lot on his record. The instrumentals are really crisp with a very prominent acoustic section and the vocals are insanely difficult but expertly performed. This is a classic rock track that is hard to beat. Dad’s Rating 9/10
It Ain’t Easy: I didn’t initially recognize “It Ain’t Easy” until I got to the chorus, but then it was immediate recognition. I rate this higher than the first two tracks on this album for one reason: Where Bowie only pulled on one source of soul on each of the first two songs, this one relies both on strong, soulful lyrics and a blues inspired guitar riff that elevates it. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Lady Stardust: Holy vocals. Bowie was always known for his singing ability and “Lady Stardust” might be the best example of that on this record. The amount of control and practice that goes into delivering a performance like this are almost immeasurable. Not only is this one of the more popular songs on the record, it’s musically very challenging. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Star: “Star” is one of the more forgettable songs on the album. It’s one of those that I won’t remember after this review unless I was the world’s biggest David Bowie fan and blends in to a lot of other songs of the early 70s. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t stand out. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Hang On to Yourself: Here’s one of the hidden gems on the record. “Hang On to Yourself” never gets a lot of attention sandwiched between some huge singles, but it’s a great example of the role that glam rock played in uniting old-school rock and roll and the emerging rock sound of the 1970s. This is fun song that’s worth listening to and not glossing over for the big tracks at the end of the record. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Ziggy Stardust: “Ziggy Stardust” is just about everything that I like in a good rock song. It’s progressive and conceptual in the fact that it has science fiction inspired lyrics and gives you the clearest description of the Ziggy Stardust character/David Bowie alter-ego. There are fantastic transitions between lyrical verses and harsh choruses that serve to remind you that this isn’t a song about a normal person, it’s a song about an alien. Fantastic song. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Suffragette City: ‘Hey man.’ “Suffragette City” is such a rocker. I’m not sure how much I can add to a song like this. It’s legendary in its own right and one of Bowie’s most recognizable songs. If you don’t know it then you need to listen to it. If you do know it, then you know what I mean. If this comes on in the car then you’re turning it up. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide: Lyrically, there may be no better way to end an album than with a song about a washed-up rock star. Musically, this is a solid song that is a mix of classic rock and roll and the showman, almost Broadway-like, musical style that Bowie was able to deliver so many songs in, including most of the ones on this record. Dad’s Rating 6/10
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