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  1. I’d love to claim that as an ultra switched on 9 year old I was watching Top Of the Pops in July 1972 when Bowie (or was it Ziggy?) sang the line “I had to phone someone so I picked on you” and has he sang the word YOU stared straight into and pointed down the camera lens, and I was struck by that feeling of “he means me” that so many others I’ve heard it from were taken by. Truth be told I had not-a-clue and didn’t really discover this wonderful record until the early 80’s ! Since I discovered it it has tho’ held a permanent place in my top 5 favourite albums of all time.

    “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” was already recorded and ready to go before its predecessor, “Hunky Dory”, had been released. Bowie was not a star at this point but his management, Tony De Fries and Mainman, came up with the strategy that if you pretend you are a Rock star, turn up everywhere in a limousine with an entourage, stay at all the best hotels etc., then people will believe you are a Rock star and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So that’s what they did. Fortunately he had the record to back up the artifice.

    “Five Years” is a classic Bowie apocalyptic, dystopian tale (there will be many more). The news had just come (the same news the Young Dudes were carrying Bowie later admitted) that “Earth was really dying” and as a result people were collectively losing their minds. We encounter crying newsmen, a soldier just staring, cops kneeling to kiss priests feet and violent young girls freaking out at the thought of the end of the world. I guess it felt at times in the early 70’s like the world was about to end so the song fits the mood of the times well. Woody Woodmansey said he was trying to put “hopelessness into a drum beat”.

    “Soul Love” feels like an anti love song…it feels warm and fuzzy and quite funky but the lyrics tell a different story of how love is careless. As “Soul Love” fades to nothing a perfectly timed edit brings us 

     DRAAANG…DRANG…I’m an alligator…

    the crunching opening chords of Mick Ronson’s 2nd great performance, “Moonage Daydream”…but, but, but <<< rewind a little…

    One thing that has always bugged me about the start of “…Ziggy Stardust…” is this…”Five Years” and “Soul Love” share very similar drum patterns alongside very similar chord structures, why did no-one think to have Woody segue out of “Five Years” into the opening beat of “Soul Love” (that’s the way I always hear it in my head) and you create an opening to Side 1 that doesn’t let up from the start until the end of “Moonage Daydream”.

    Anyway, back to the song in hand…Ronson really does freak out as the lyric suggests and the lyric basically encapsulates the entire album in one song, a grand introduction for a fake rock star, whether that be Arnold Corns (aka Freddie Buretti, for whom it was originally written) or Ziggy Stardust. This is, tho’, Mick Ronson’s showcase, although let’s not forget Trevor Bolder who anchors the whole thing while Ronno is creating stardust with that guitar solo. A solo for which Bowie drew a diagram for how it should sound, Ronson went off and hid in a corner somewhere and came back with an exact match for the diagram (watch him get into it at the final Hammersmith show below). You want a theme tune for Ziggy Stardust ? “Moonage Daydream” is it.

    And if that 3 song opening salvo didn’t floor you then you get “Starman”. Books and essays have been written, documentaries filmed and podcasts recorded and in many of them David Bowie has been described as a/the Starman. Bowie has forever been viewed as an alien presence and it all comes back to this album, to the character Ziggy Stardust and to this song. It was the albums lead single in April 1972. THAT TOTP performance in July 1972 has gone down in lore as the moment many people “got” Bowie. Draping his arm around Ronno’s shoulder was scandalous at the time, Trevor Bolder and his incredible side-ies nervously laughing as they did that told you as much. The outfits were incredible along with the hair and that moment, “I had to phone someone so I picked on you”…suddenly Bowie WAS a star, and we haven’t reached the end of side one yet !

    Although we do reach the end of side one with more of a whimper than bang. “It Ain’t Easy” was a cover of a song from Louisiana songwriter Ron Davies 1970 album “Silent Song Through The Land”. Now, apart from “Waiting For The Man” I don’t think Bowie was ever really that hot at picking covers. It has been claimed that Mick Ronson had introduced this one to Bowie as he’d played it with his band The Rats. Whatever, it’s the albums low point and it’s astonishing to think that this made it while “Velvet Goldmine” was left in the tape vault.

    Side 2 is where it all happens. When you think of Ziggy you think of Bowie’s look at the time, flame red hair, bright sparkly jump suits. “Lady Stardust” tells of someone with “long black hair” and “the boy in the bright blue jeans”. Not how we think of Ziggy Stardust looking. Whatever, we’re being introduced to the phenomenon here. I love the verse:

    Femme fatales emerged from shadows

    To watch this creature fair

    Boys stood upon their chairs

    To make their point(s)of view

    The beautiful people have emerged but the boys at the back of the room are still, drinking and shouting their heads off.

    “Star” (it’s almost an admission of the pretence of being a star Bowie and his entourage were playing out) and “Hang On To Yourself” (the song that opened many shows on the Ziggy tours) show us the mania and the excitement Ziggy was stirring up “We can't dance, we don't talk much, we just ball and play, But then we move like tigers on Vaseline

    Then Ziggy’s song, telling, from the POV of one of the Spiders, of the rise and fall of the alien rock star. Hung off one the greatest guitar riffs ever played Bowie tells us of the well hung nazz, who played left handed and took it all to far. “Suffragette City” feels like Ziggy’s comedown “wham bam thank you m’am”. It was apparently offered to Mott The Hoople before “All The Young Dudes” but they turned it down. It and “Hang Onto Yourself” must have been huge influences on Punk…proto-punk ?

    And then it’s the end game. Side 2 has flown by and it’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. The kids have killed the man and the Spiders have broken up but “you’re not alone, gimme your hands” and it ends on orchestral strings…what a rush.

    “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” is important cos it gave the world the greatest rock star of my lifetime. I was late to this party, but from that first hearing to listening for the nth time just now, I don’t think I’ve ever been anything less than enthralled by this wonderful record.

    Moonage Daydream - https://youtu.be/BL9Aur-G1yc

  2. The gang’s all here…for the recording of “Hunky Dory” Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey introduced their boss to bass player Trevor Bolder, also from Hull, putting together the band than in just a few months would become known to the world as The Spiders From Mars. Tony Visconti’s producers chair has been filled by TMWSTW engineer Ken Scott. So for his 4th album David Bowie produced his first classic.

    You’d not know that back in 1971 tho’. The album and accompanying single “Changes”, despite receiving glowing reviews, failed to chart on release. RCA didn’t put much effort into promoting either as they knew a drastic change of image and style was imminent. It’s incredible to think that as Bowie was preparing to release “Hunky Dory” his next album was already recorded and ready to go, the long haired be-flared singer/songwriter pictured on this record sleeve was about to transition into a flame haired, jump suit clad, rock ‘n’ roll alien.

    “Hunky Dory” opens with 2 bona fide Bowie gems. “Changes” is as much a metaphor for what the writer is about to do as it is a warning to us all that change is inevitable. The jaunty “Oh! You Pretty Things” was successfully covered by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame, giving the writer his 2nd hit.

    “Eight Line Poem” leads us to the astonishing “Life On Mars ?”. Now this is not just a Bowie classic but, flat out, one of the greatest songs written by anybody, anywhere, ever. Where did the guy who just 18 months ago was writing about splitting up with his girlfriend like a lovesick teenager drag this one from? The song is magnificent, Mick Ronson’s arrangement and orchestration frame it perfectly and Rick Wakeman’s piano elicits from me just about the only good thing I have to say about Rick Wakeman. If the world didn’t already know it this was Bowie serving notice that he was something special.

    That is followed by “Kooks” a lovely if slightly silly nursery rhyme to his son Zowie/Joe/Duncan. “Quicksand” closes out Side 1, a beautiful song with references to Buddhism, Nietzsche, Himmler, Churchill, Nazis and not a lot of hope, “Don't believe in yourself, don't deceive with belief, Knowledge comes with death's release” as the lyric goes, cheery huh ?

    Biff Rose’s “Fill Your Heart” is a throwaway cover version and then we reach what can be viewed as 3 tribute songs in a row. Bowie had developed a fixation with Andy Warhol, the Factory scene and the Velvet Underground since being presented with an acetate of “Andy Warhol Presents The Velvet Underground and Nico” by former manager Ken Pitt. He’d added “Waiting For The Man” to his live set before it had been released in the UK. Here he writes a tribute to Mr Warhol, “Andy Warhol”, it’s been said Andy hated it.

    “Song For Bob Dylan” is exactly that, another tribute to a hero. This is followed by another nod to an influence and a pointer to the next album. “Queen Bitch” is practically a rewrite of “Waiting For The Man”, a backhanded compliment to Lou Reed. It would also have sat very comfortably on Bowie’s next album, the pointer.

    “The Bewlay Brothers”, said Bowie, was a song for the American market. Americans love to overthink things, looking for clues in lyrics and on record sleeves that aren’t there, so he wrote a purposefullly cryptic song for America.

    “Hunky Dory” is regarded as a classic in hindsight, it almost got lost due to a lack of attention from both artist (Bowie didn’t tour the album) and record company. The next step was ready, Bowie was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

    Quicksand - https://youtu.be/9PrnGo-lOVA (a later live version that not even Reeves Gabrels manages to ruin!).

  3. Now we’re almost ready to fly. The release of “The Man Who Sold The World” in April 1971 marks the start of arguably the greatest run of studio albums by anyone. From here right up until the release of “Scary Monsters” in 1980 (11 consecutive studio albums, I’m not counting “Pin Ups”) Bowie didn’t put a foot wrong.

    The pieces are coming together. Bowie has found his right hand man and guitarist, Mick Ronson from Hull, who bought along drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey. Tony Visconti is again producing and playing bass. It’s falling into place.

    On its release the album proved quite controversial, not so much for the musical contents but for the cover image of Bowie reclining on a chaise longue at his home at Haddon Hall clad in a “Mans dress” designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish (no, not the weatherman). It’s one of 4 sleeves the album has lived in over time, alongside the US “Cartoon” cover, the hugely elaborate German foldout cover and the later RCA re-issue black and white Ziggy cover (I have 3 of the 4, although the Dress and US covers in my collection are re-issues. The German one will likely remain out of my reach unless I win the Lottery !).

    Musically the 60’s hippy stylings that dominated “David Bowie (2)” are being swept away.  Small remnants of them linger on “After All” but this album is more muscular and rock ’n’ roll (pointed at by “Cygnet Committee” on the previous record, lyrically if not entirely musically). It starts well with a song Bowie was still coming back to on the Earthling tour over 25 years later. “The Width Of A Circle” perfectly introduces not only the new rockier sound but one of its architects. Ladies and gentleman say a big hello to Mick Ronson. Not only had Bowie found himself a guitar player for the next few years but Ronno was also a master arranger and budding orchestrator on whom Bowie would lean heavily through this and his next three albums. It all starts with a squeal of feedback and Ronno slides into the first of many classic riffs he’d conjure up for Bowie. Very quickly it’s obvious this is a very different David Bowie album. This is a hard rock 4 piece as evidenced by Ronson’s first solo which is anything but your stock-in Blues Rock solo of the time. Lyrically, here and throughout the whole album, Bowie is singing of isolation, paranoia, mental illness, fantasy, sex, God and the devil, there are no love songs on “The Man Who Sold The World”.

    Next up is “All The Madmen”, the title says it all. It’s a song about mental illness, deeply rooted in Bowie’s fears for his own and the plight of his half brother Terry who was by this time resident in Cane Hill Hospital, the institution pictured on the cartoon cover of the US release. More crushing guitars and a great riff from Ronson with Tony Visconti’s bass very high in the mix, as it is on the whole album, Ronson having told him to play like Jack Bruce.

    “Black Country Rock” is another hard rocker featuring a ver accurate Marc Bolan impression toward the end. “After All” is the only real relief from the rock, an acoustic-centred song with the repeated refrain of “oh by jingo”. Another song about childhood.

    Side 2 opens with “Running Gun Blues” telling of a soldier and his killing spree. “Saviour Machine” has computers controlling everything that people do and eventually exterminating humans…sound familiar ? “She Shook Me Cold” has Ronson running wild and Bowie singing about sex.

    And then we come to the title song…it actually sits a little uneasily here. A friend has a theory that every Bowie album has a track on it pointing straight to the next album. “Cygnet Committee” was that song on the last album and “The Man Who Sold The World” fulfils that position here, pointing toward “Hunky Dory”. It’s one of my favourites, even more so the version Bowie and Ronson cooked up for Lulu featuring one of DB’s wonderfully asthmatic sax performances. Midge Ure also had a crack at it if I remember right. The less said about a well known unplugged cover the better.

    Everything comes to a close with “The Supermen”. It draws influence from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche who Bowie was reading a lot at the start of the 70’s. A look back to a long lost race of, errrr, Supermen who brutally ruled the world, “pre-facists” as he later described them. It’s a great tune regardless of the heavy nature of the subject matter.

    Toni Visconti has said that TMWSTW is one of his top 3 Bowie albums, he has great memories of making the record. This would be the last time Visconti would work with Bowie for some years, partly because he was very busy producing Marc Bolan and partly as he didn’t trust Bowie’s new manager, Tony De Fries. For Bowie things were certainly on the upswing. His next 4 albums may well be as good a quartet as anyone has ever made…

    All The Madmen - https://youtu.be/KrlvgARHdzc