|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars|
|Released||14 April 1972|
|Recorded||Trident Studios, London
4 February 1972
|Producer(s)||David Bowie and Ken Scott|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"Starman" is a song by David Bowie, recorded on 4 February 1972 and released as a single that April. The song was a late addition to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, included at the insistence of RCA’s Dennis Katz, who heard a demo and loved the track, believing it would make a great single. It replaced the Chuck Berry cover "Round and Round" on the album.
Music and lyrics
The lyrics describe Ziggy Stardust bringing a message of hope to Earth's youth through the radio, salvation by an alien 'Starman'. The story is told from the point of view of one of the youths who hears Ziggy. According to Bowie himself, speaking to William S. Burroughs for Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, Ziggy Stardust is not the Starman but merely his earthly messenger – contrary to received opinion which often paints Ziggy as an extraterrestrial. The song has inspired interpretations ranging from an allusion to the Second Coming of Christ, to an accurate prediction of the plot for the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
The music is in a gentle pop rock vein, featuring prominent acoustic guitar and a string arrangement by Mick Ronson, not dissimilar to the style of Bowie's previous album Hunky Dory (1971). The chorus is loosely based on Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" from the film The Wizard of Oz, alluding to the "Starman"'s extraterrestrial origins (over the rainbow) (the octave leap on the word "Starman" is identical to that on the word "Somewhere" in "Over the Rainbow"). Other influences cited for the track are the T. Rex songs "Telegram Sam" and "Hot Love" (the "boogie" references and "la la la" chorus) and Holland–Dozier–Holland's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (the morse code-esque guitar and piano breaks).
Release and aftermath
From a commercial point of view, "Starman" was a milestone in Bowie’s career, his first hit since 1969's "Space Oddity" three years before. NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray reported that "many thought it was his first record since 'Space Oddity'", and assumed that it was a sequel to the earlier single.
The single initially sold steadily rather than spectacularly but earned many positive reviews, John Peel for example calling it "a classic, a gem". Its turning point came when Bowie scored a place on Top of the Pops in July 1972. (Although this performance, recorded on 5 July 1972 and broadcast on 6 July, is often cited as being the first UK TV performance of the song, it had in fact been performed on ITV's Lift Off With Ayshea three weeks earlier.) Bowie's performance with the Spiders became famous; according to author David Buckley, "Many fans date their conversion to all things Bowie to this Top of the Pops appearance". It embedded Ziggy Stardust in the nation’s consciousness, helping push "Starman" to No. 10 and the album, released the previous month, to No. 5. The single remained in the UK charts for 11 weeks. In the US it peaked at No. 65. (The Top of the Pops performance is included on the DVD version of Best of Bowie.)
In addition to the TV performances, Bowie played the song for radio listeners on the BBC's Johnny Walker Lunchtime Show on 22 May 1972. This performance was broadcast in early June 1972 and eventually released on Bowie at the Beeb in 2000.
In February 1999, Q magazine listed the single as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time, as voted by readers.
Writer James Robinson's acclaimed Starman series featured a story about an alien named Mikaal Tomas, who went by the alias of Starman while living on Earth. In the opening scene of the tale, Mikaal claims that the people of Earth gave him the name due to the similarities between his own life and Bowie's song. The song was played in the Torchwood episode "Random Shoes" during one of the focus character's flashbacks, and also over the closing credits of the first episode of the second series of Life on Mars, in keeping with the various David Bowie allusions throughout that series.
- "Starman" (Bowie) – 4:16
- "Suffragette City" (Bowie) – 3:25
- The Italian release of "John, I'm Only Dancing" from September 1972 used "Starman" as the B-side.
- The Portuguese release of the single had "John, I'm Only Dancing" and "Hang on to Yourself" as additional B-sides.
- It appeared on numerous compilations:
- 10,000 Maniacs - Single (1992)
- Bob Downe - Greatest Hits
- Boy Eats Drum Machine - Bonus digital-only track on Bridging the Distance: a Portland, OR covers compilation
- Culture Club - Live recording, Culture anthology album and Don't Mind if I Do (1999); also included on Starman: Rare and Exclusive Versions of 18 Classic David Bowie Songs, CD premium from the March 2003 issue of Uncut magazine. Also released as a double A-Side in November 1999, reaching number 43 in the UK singles chart.
- Dan - Single (1996)
- Dar Williams - Web release
- Golden Smog - Blood on the Slacks
- Jaurim - 靑春禮瓚 (청춘예찬) (2005)
- Joe Dolan - 21st Century Joe
- John C. Reilly - Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story soundtrack (2007)
- Leningrad Cowboys - Zombie's Paradise
- Magni Asgeirsson - Rock Star: Supernova (2006)
- Mates of State - All Day EP
- Nena - Cover me (2007)
- Nenhum de Nós - Brazilian Portuguese version named Astronauta de Mármore (1989) (English: Marble Astronaut)
- Nosferatu - Goth Oddity - A Tribute to David Bowie (1999)
- Of Montreal - Live on their 2007 tour
- Phillip Boa - Fine Art on Silver, also released as a single
- Seu Jorge - Brazilian Portuguese version (previously composed by Nenhum de Nós) for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
- Slackdaddy - Loving the Alien: Athens Georgia Salutes David Bowie
- The Diamonds - Million Copy Hit Songs Made Famous By Elton John & David Bowie
- The Glitter Band - Wham Bam, Thank You Glam (1996)
- The Living Sisters - Love to Live (2010)
- Tomoyasu Hotei - Guitarhythm 2 (1991)
- The Dykeenies - Live at their Apple Store Glasgow show (2007)
- Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now - David Bowie: The London Years: 1947-1974: p.242
- Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.203
- Nicholas Pegg (2000). Ibid: pp.276-277
- David Buckley (1999) Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.148-151
- Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.44
- Trynka, Paul (2011). Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography. London: Sphere. ISBN 978-0751542936.
- Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Ibid: p.8
- "David Bowie and His Four-Minute Gem" cited at The Ziggy Stardust Companion
- "Lift Off With Ayshea". Ibid.
- McCartney, Bowie, Phish drop rare vinyl for Record Store Day, MSNBC (msnbc.com), retrieved 21 April 2012
- Starman (Vol. 2), #28
Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5