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Aladdin Sane

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Aladdin Sane
A close-up of a white shirtless man with bright red hair with a blue and red lightning bolt across his face
Studio album by
Released20 April 1973 (1973-04-20)[a]
Recorded6 October, December 1972 – January 1973
David Bowie chronology
Images 1966–1967
Aladdin Sane
Pin Ups
Singles from Aladdin Sane
  1. "The Jean Genie"
    Released: 24 November 1972
  2. "Drive-In Saturday"
    Released: 6 April 1973
  3. "Time"
    Released: 13 April 1973
  4. "Let's Spend the Night Together"
    Released: July 1973

Aladdin Sane is the sixth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 20 April 1973 through RCA Records. The follow-up to his breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), it was the first album he wrote and released from a position of stardom. It was produced by Bowie and Ken Scott and features contributions from Bowie's backing band the Spiders from MarsMick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey — as well as pianist Mike Garson, two saxophonists and three backing vocalists. Recorded at Trident Studios in London and RCA Studios in New York City between legs of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, the record was Bowie's final album with the full Spiders lineup.

Bowie wrote most of the tracks on the road in the US between shows. Because of this, many of the tracks are greatly influenced by America and Bowie's perceptions of the country. Due to the American influence and the fast-paced songwriting, the record features a tougher and raunchier glam rock sound than its predecessor. The lyrics reflect the pros of Bowie's newfound stardom and the cons of touring and paint pictures of urban decay, drugs, sex, violence and death. Some of the songs are influenced by the Rolling Stones, and a cover of their song "Let's Spend the Night Together" is included. The album features a new character called Aladdin Sane, a pun on "A Lad Insane", whom Bowie described as "Ziggy Stardust goes to America". The cover artwork, shot by Brian Duffy and featuring a lightning bolt across Bowie's face, was the most expensive cover ever made at the time and represents the split personality of the Aladdin Sane character and Bowie's mixed feelings of the tour and stardom. It is regarded as one of his most iconic images.

Preceded by the singles "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday", Aladdin Sane was Bowie's most commercially successful record up to that point, topping the UK Albums Chart and helped garner immense popularity for the artist there. It also received positive reviews from music critics, although many found it inferior to its predecessor. The popularity continued throughout the latter half of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which featured various setlist and stage production changes. In later decades, Aladdin Sane has appeared on several best-of lists and is viewed by Bowie's biographers as one of his essential releases. It has been reissued several times and was remastered in 2013 for its 40th anniversary, which was included on the 2015 box set Five Years (1969–1973).

Background and writing[edit]

David Bowie was launched to stardom through the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and his performance of "Starman" on the BBC television programme Top of the Pops in early July 1972.[1][2] The television performance helped propel Ziggy Stardust to No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart, remaining on the chart for two years. Although not as successful in the United States, peaking at only No. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart, Bowie nevertheless became one of the most important glam rock artists.[3][4] To promote the record, Bowie undertook the Ziggy Stardust Tour in both the UK and the US, the latter ultimately becoming a major influence for his next album.[5][6][7]

Aladdin Sane was my idea of rock and roll America. Here I was on this great tour circuit, not enjoying it very much. So inevitably my writing reflected that, this kind of schizophrenia that I was going through. Wanting to be up on stage performing my songs, but on the other hand not really wanting to be on those buses with all those strange people. Being basically a quiet person, it was hard to come to terms. So Aladdin Sane was split down the middle.[7]

—David Bowie on the theme of the album

Aladdin Sane was the first album Bowie wrote and released from a position of stardom.[8] He composed most of the tracks on the road during the US tour in late 1972.[9] Because of this, many of the tracks were influenced by America and his perceptions of the country.[7] Biographer Christopher Sandford believes the album showed that Bowie "was simultaneously appalled and fixated by America".[6] The tour also took a toll on Bowie's mental health, which further influenced his writing; it marked the beginning of his longtime cocaine addiction.[10] He co-produced Lou Reed's Transformer and mixed the Stooges' Raw Power the same year, adding to his exhaustion.[11][12] His mixed feelings about the journey stemmed, in Bowie's words, from "wanting to be up on the stage performing my songs, but on the other hand not really wanting to be on those buses with all those strange people ... So Aladdin Sane was split down the middle."[7] Bowie would later say that due to being on the road, he was unsure of the direction to take for the record. While he felt that he had said as much as he wanted to say about Ziggy Stardust, he knew he'd "end up doing...'Ziggy Part 2'".[9] He stated: "There was a point in '73 where I knew it was all over. I didn't want to be trapped in this Ziggy character all my life. And I guess what I was doing on Aladdin Sane, I was trying to move into the next area – but using a rather pale imitation of Ziggy as a secondary device. In my mind, it was Ziggy Goes to Washington: Ziggy under the influence of America."[12]

Rather than continue the Ziggy Stardust character directly, Bowie decided he would create a new persona, Aladdin Sane. The character reflected the theme of "Ziggy goes to America"[9][7] and, according to Bowie, was less defined and "clear cut" than Ziggy Stardust, and "pretty ephemeral".[13] According to biographer David Buckley, the character was a "schizoid amalgamation" that was reflected in the music.[9]


Mike Garson on piano in 2006
Aladdin Sane features pianist Mike Garson (pictured in 2006), whose playing broadened the songs into more experimental territory.

Aladdin Sane was mainly recorded between December 1972 and January 1973, between legs of the Ziggy Stardust Tour. Like his two previous records, it was co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott and featured Bowie's backing band the Spiders from Mars – comprising Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey.[7][14] Also in the lineup was American pianist Mike Garson, who was hired by Bowie at the suggestion of RCA executive Ken Glancey and singer-songwriter Annette Peacock.[15][9] The pianist came from a jazz and blues background, which biographer Nicholas Pegg believes veered the album from pure rock 'n' roll and expanded Bowie's experimental horizons.[7] Buckley called Aladdin Sane the beginning of Bowie's "experimental phase" and cited Garson's presence as "revolutionary".[9] Scott noted that Garson added elements to the arrangements that were not there before, including more keyboards and synthesisers. Garson later said that Scott as producer "got the best piano sound out of any of his performances for Bowie."[9] Garson remembered being given a lot of attention from Bowie in the studio, who mainly wanted to see what Garson could do.[7] He remained with Bowie's entourage for the next three years.[9] Along with Garson, others added to the lineup for the album and tour included saxophonists Ken Fordham and Brian "Bux" Wilshaw and backing vocalists Juanita Franklin, Linda Lewis and longtime friend Geoffrey MacCormack (later known as Warren Peace); MacCormack would subsequently appear on numerous records by Bowie throughout the remainder of the 1970s.[7]

"The Jean Genie" was the first song recorded on 6 October 1972 at RCA Studios in New York City; it was mixed at RCA Studios in Nashville a week later. With Bowie producing himself, the song was recorded rather quickly, in about 90 minutes and in only one take, other than a few overdubs, according to Bolder.[16][17] After the session, the band and crew left New York to continue the tour in Chicago.[16] Bowie's manager Tony Defries originally wanted to enlist Phil Spector to produce the album, but after receiving no response from Spector, Bowie invited Scott back to co-produce.[7] Two months later on 9 December, the band reconvened in New York with Scott and recorded "Drive-In Saturday" and the Bowie-penned Mott the Hoople-track "All the Young Dudes".[18][17] The American tour concluded later that month, after which the band returned overseas to perform a series of Christmas concerts in England and Scotland. Following these concerts, the band regrouped at Trident Studios in London on 19 January 1973 to record the remainder of the album.[19][20] On this day, the band recorded "1984", which, while left off Aladdin Sane, became an important track thematically for Bowie's Diamond Dogs (1974).[19][21] The following day, the band taped the backing tracks for "Panic in Detroit", the title track and the "sax version" of the non-album single "John, I'm Only Dancing".[19][22] A provisional running order was compiled the same day, including "John, I'm Only Dancing" and an unknown track titled "Zion".[b] Vocals were added to "Panic in Detroit" and the title track four days later, marking the end of the sessions.[19] O'Leary and author Peter Doggett state that the remaining songs were recorded during the Trident sessions in January.[17][24]

Music and lyrics[edit]

We wanted to take it ...much rougher. Ziggy was rock and roll but polished rock and roll. [Bowie] wanted certain tracks [on Aladdin Sane] to go like the Rolling Stones and unpolished rock and roll.[7]

—Ken Scott on the album's sound

Like its predecessor Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane is predominantly glam rock,[25][14] with elements of hard rock.[26] Aladdin Sane's American influence and the album's fast-paced development helped add a tougher, rawer and edgier rock sound.[6][7][9] Some of the songs, including "Watch That Man", "Drive-In Saturday" and "Lady Grinning Soul" are influenced by the English rock band the Rolling Stones; a cover of their song "Let's Spend the Night Together" is included.[7][27] Each track was ascribed a location on the LP label to indicate where it was written or took its inspiration:[28][29] New York ("Watch That Man"), SeattlePhoenix ("Drive-In Saturday"), Detroit ("Panic in Detroit"), Los Angeles ("Cracked Actor"), New Orleans ("Time"), Detroit and New York again ("The Jean Genie"), RHMS Ellinis, the vessel that had carried Bowie home in December 1972 ("Aladdin Sane"), London ("Lady Grinning Soul") and Gloucester Road ("The Prettiest Star").[8][7][28] According to Pegg, the lyrics of Aladdin Sane paint pictures of urban decay, degenerate lives, drug addiction, violence and death. He notes that some of the themes presented on Bowie's previous works are reflected in Aladdin Sane: "notions of religion shattered by science, extraterrestrial encounters posing as messianic visitations, the impact on society of different kinds of 'star', and the degradation of human life in a spiritual void."[7] Author James Perone states that thematically, the album deals with "the concept and definition of sanity",[27] while Ric Albano of Classic Rock Review wrote that the music reflects the pros of newfound stardom and the cons of the perils of touring.[30]

Side one[edit]

The Rolling Stones in 1967
Numerous tracks on the album are influenced by the Rolling Stones (pictured in 1967)

The opening track, "Watch That Man", was written in response to seeing two concerts by the American rock band New York Dolls. According to Doggett, the Dolls' first two albums were important in representing the American response to the British glam rock movement. Bowie was impressed with their sound and wanted to emulate it on a song.[31][17] "Watch That Man" is described by Pegg as "a sleazy garage rocker" heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones, specifically their song "Brown Sugar".[32] The mix, in which Bowie's lead vocal is buried beneath the instrumental sections, has been heavily criticised by critics and fans.[32][8][9] Biographers compare it to the contemporaneous sound of Elton John and the Stones' Exile on Main St. (1972).[27][31][32] The label and Bowie's publisher MainMan initially requested a new mix with Bowie's vocal more upfront, but after Bowie and Scott complied, it was deemed inferior to the original.[17][28]

The title track "Aladdin Sane (1913–1938–197?)", often shortened to just "Aladdin Sane", was inspired by Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies,[33][34] which Bowie read during his trip on the RHMS Ellinis back to the UK.[17] Described by Buckley as the album's "pivotal" song, it saw Bowie exploring more experimental genres, rather than strict rock 'n' roll.[9] It features a piano solo by Garson[26] that is described by Pegg as the track's "defining feature".[33] Garson had originally attempted a blues solo and Latin solo, which were politely rejected by Bowie, who asked him to play something more akin to the avant-garde jazz genre that Garson had come from. Improvised and recorded in one take, Buckley considers the solo a "landmark" recording.[9] Doggett similarly believes that the track's landscape belongs to Garson.[35]

"Drive-In Saturday" was written following an overnight train ride between Seattle and Phoenix in early November 1972. He witnessed a row of silver domes in the distance and assumed they were secret government facilities used for a post-nuclear fallout. In the track, the radiation has affected people's minds and bodies to the point that they need to watch films in order to learn to have sex again.[17][36] According to Perone, it continues the style Bowie wrote for the Spiders during the sessions for Ziggy.[27] It is heavily influenced by 1950s doo-wop music,[8] and presents a contemporary update to the 1950s drive-in culture.[27] Pegg considers "Drive-In Saturday" "arguably the finest track" on the album.[36] As Bowie was influenced by Jungian ideas around creativity and madness, artist Tanja Stark suggests the song's lyrical reference to Jung "crashing out with sylvian" allude to Jung's Red Book hallucinations possibly originating from the Sylvian fissure in the brain.[37]

"Panic in Detroit" was inspired by Iggy Pop's stories of the Detroit riots in 1967 and the rise of the White Panther Party, specifically their leader John Sinclair.[38][17] Bowie compared the ideas of Sinclair to the rebel martyr Che Guevara for the narrator in "Panic in Detroit".[39] The lyrics are very dark, featuring images of urban decay, violence, drugs, emotional isolation and suicide,[38] adding to the album's overarching theme of alienation.[27] Doggett finds a thematic link between the song and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", which "used a similar three-chord riff to underpin its apocalypse".[39] Musically, the song itself is built around a Bo Diddley beat;[8] Pegg considers Ronson's guitar part very "bluesy".[38]

"Cracked Actor" was written following Bowie's stay at Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where he witnessed prostitutes, drug use and sex. The song's narrator is an aging film star whose life is beginning to decline; he is "stiff on his legend" and encounters a prostitute, whom he despises.[40][17] There are numerous double entendres regarding film stardom and sex: "show me you're real/reel", "smack, baby, smack" and "you've made a bad connection".[17][41] Doggett describes the song as predominantly hard rock, with only a hint of glam,[40] while Pegg describes Ronson's guitar as "dirty blues".[41]

Side two[edit]

"Time" was originally written as "We Should Be On By Now" for Bowie's friend George Underwood, with vastly different lyrics.[42][17] According to Pegg, a demo featuring Underwood, Bowie and Ronson was recorded in mid-1971 around the same time as Underwood's demo of "Song for Bob Dylan" (1971). The song was then rewritten, influenced by the death of New York Dolls drummer Billy Murcia and the concepts of relativity and mortality.[43][42][28] The song's use of the word "wanking" led to it being banned by the BBC from radio stations.[43] Garson's stride and Brechtian cabaret-style piano dominates the track while Ronson plays a similar line on guitar.[9][17][42][43]

"The Prettiest Star" was originally recorded by Bowie in 1970 as the follow-up single to "Space Oddity" (1969).[44][45] It was written for his first wife Angela Barnett, whom he married shortly after the original's release.[46][47] The original was produced by Tony Visconti and featured Marc Bolan on guitar, with whom Bowie would spend the next few years as a rival for the crown of the king of glam rock. Despite positive reviews, the original recording flopped.[44] The subsequent rerecording on Aladdin Sane was glam-influenced, and featured Bolan's guitar part mimicked almost note-for-note by Ronson.[48] Buckley calls the rerecording a "revamped and much improved" version.[45] Doggett argues that the song appeared out of place on Aladdin Sane,[49] while Pegg finds that the references to "screen starlets" and "the movies in the past" mesh with its other nostalgic references.[44]

"Let's Spend the Night Together" is the only cover song on the album. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and recorded by the Rolling Stones in 1967, the song's appearance blatantly acknowledges the influence of the Stones on the entire record.[50] While the original was psychedelic, Bowie's rendition is faster, raunchier and more glam-influenced. It features synthesisers that Pegg believes give the track a "fresh, futuristic sheen". Several critics also consider it a gay appropriation of a heterosexual song.[17][50] The cover has been criticised in the ensuing decades as camp and unsatisfying.[17][51]

"The Jean Genie" began as an impromptu jam titled "Bussin'" on the charter bus when travelling between Cleveland and Memphis.[52][17] The Bo Diddley-inspired guitar riff is a variation of the Yardbirds' "I'm a Man" and "Smokestack Lightning".[10][17] Bowie called it "a smorgasbord of imagined Americana" and his "first New York song", he wrote the lyrics to "entertain" Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe, who appeared in the song's accompanied music video.[52][53] The music is heavily blues-influenced, leading Perone to contest: "This piece exudes the British blues spirit like no previous Bowie song."[27] The lyrics were also an ode to Iggy Pop, Bowie calling the song's character a "white-trash, kind of trailer-park kid thing – the closet intellectual who wouldn’t want the world to know that he reads".[52][9]

"Lady Grinning Soul" was one of the final songs written for the album. It was also a last-minute addition, replacing the "sax version" of "John, I'm Only Dancing" as the closing track.[17] A possible inspiration for the song is American soul singer Claudia Lennear, whom Bowie met during the US tour and also inspired the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar",[c][28][55][56] although O'Leary argues that the inspiration was French singer Amanda Lear, a sometime girlfriend of Bowie's.[17] Unlike other tracks on the album, "Lady Grinning Soul" has a sexual ambiance, lushness and serenity, and features flamenco-style guitar from Ronson and a Latin-style piano part from Garson.[9][55] The track has been described as a lost James Bond theme.[8][17]

Title and artwork[edit]

The title is a pun on "A Lad Insane", which at one point was expected to be the title. When writing the album during the tour, it was under the working title Love Aladdin Vein, which Bowie said at the time felt right, but decided to change it partly due to its drug connotations.[57]

The cover artwork features a shirtless Bowie with red hair and a red-and-blue lightning bolt splitting his face in two while a teardrop runs down his collarbone. It was shot in January 1973 by Brian Duffy in his north London studio.[28][57] Duffy would later photograph the sleeves for Lodger (1979) and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980). In an effort to ensure RCA promoted the album extensively, Defries was determined to make the cover as costly as possible. He insisted on an unprecedented seven-colour system, rather than the usual four.[28][57] The image was the most expensive cover art ever made at the time.[13] The make-up designer for the shoot was artist Pierre Laroche, who remained Bowie's make-up artist for the remainder of the 1973 tour and the Pin Ups cover shoot.[57] Cann writes that Duffy and Laroche copied the lightning bolt from a National Panasonic rice-cooker in the studio. The make-up was completed with a "deathly purple wash", which Cann believes, together with Bowie's closed eyes, evoke a "death mask".[28] The final photo was selected from a group featuring Bowie looking directly at the camera. These photos later became a signature image of the V&A's David Bowie Is exhibition.[57][58] The shoot was the only time Bowie wore the design on his face, but it was later used for hanging backdrops at live performances.[28]

Duffy believed that Bowie's inspiration for the "flash" design came from a ring once worn by Elvis Presley; it featured the letters TCB (an acronym for Taking Care of Business) with a lightning flash.[28][57] Pegg believes the cover has a deeper meaning, representing the "split down the middle" personality of the Aladdin Sane character and reflecting Bowie's split feelings regarding the US tour and his newfound stardom.[57] The teardrop on his chest was Duffy's idea; Bowie said the photographer "just popped it in there. I thought it was rather sweet."[59][60] It was airbrushed by Philip Castle, who also helped create the silvery effect on Bowie's body on the sleeve.[28] Regarded as one of the most iconic images of Bowie, it was called "the Mona Lisa of album covers" by The Guardian's Mick McCann and one of the 50 greatest album covers of all time by Billboard in 2022.[58][61] Pegg calls it "perhaps the most celebrated image of Bowie's long career".[57]

Upon release, the cover was polarising. According to Cann, some were offended and bewildered at Bowie's appearance, while others found it daring.[28] Henry Edwards of The New York Times initially described the image as "the most cunning representation to date of this angel‐faced, 25‐year‐old, English composer‐performer as a disembodied spirit of the Space Age".[62] In retrospect, Cann writes that a cover like Aladdin Sane's can be a risky move for artists whose success is relatively recent.[28]


RCA issued "The Jean Genie" as the lead single on 24 November 1972.[63][64] In its advertising, the label stated: "Written in New York. Recorded in New York. Mixed in Nashville. The first single to come from Bowie's triumphant American tour."[63] The song charted at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, spending 13 weeks on the chart,[65] making it Bowie's biggest hit to date. The single fared worse in the US, peaking at No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100.[52] It was promoted with a music video shot by Mick Rock, featuring bits of concert footage shot in San Francisco on 27 and 28 October 1972, interspersed with shots of Bowie posing around the Mars Hotel and actress Cyrinda Foxe.[52] The second single, "Drive-In Saturday", was released in the UK on 6 April 1973.[64][66] Like the previous single, it was a commercial success, peaking at No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart.[36] "Time" was later issued as a single in the US and Japan, and "Let's Spend the Night Together" in the US and Europe.[67] In 1974, Lulu released a version of "Watch That Man" as the B-side to her single "The Man Who Sold the World", produced by Bowie and Ronson.[68]

Aladdin Sane was released through RCA on 20 April 1973.[a][70] With a purported 100,000 copies ordered in advance,[9] the LP debuted at the top of the UK charts, where it remained for five weeks. In the US, where Bowie already had three albums on the charts, Aladdin Sane peaked at No. 17, making it Bowie's most successful record commercially in both countries to that date. According to Pegg, this feat was unheard of at the time and guaranteed Aladdin Sane's status as Britain's best-selling album since "the days of the Beatles".[57] Elsewhere, the album reached the top five in France, the Netherlands and Sweden,[71][72][73] and the top ten in Australia.[74] Aladdin Sane is estimated to have sold 4.6 million copies worldwide, making it one of Bowie's highest-selling LPs.[75] The Guinness Book of British Hit Albums notes that Bowie "ruled the [British] album chart, accumulating an unprecedented 182 weeks on the list in 1973 with six different titles."[76] Following Bowie's death in 2016, Aladdin Sane reentered the US charts, peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top Pop Catalog Albums chart the week of 29 January 2016, where it remained for three weeks.[77] It also peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Vinyl Albums the week of 18 March 2016, remaining on the chart for four weeks.[78]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reaction to Aladdin Sane was generally laudatory, if more enthusiastic in the US than in the UK.[57] Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone remarked on "Bowie's provocative melodies, audacious lyrics, masterful arrangements (with Mick Ronson) and production (with Ken Scott)", and pronounced it "less manic than The Man Who Sold The World, and less intimate than Hunky Dory, with none of its attacks of self-doubt."[26] Billboard called it a combination of "raw energy with explosive rock".[57] In The New York Times, Edwards described Aladdin Sane as "the most expressive, if still uneven, album of his recording career".[62] In the British music press, letters columns accused Bowie of 'selling out' and Let It Rock magazine found the album to be more style than substance, considering that he had "nothing to say and everything to say it with".[57][79] Similarly, Kim Fowley of Phonograph Record considered the record bad, save for "Time" and "The Prettiest Star". Fowley found the record's flaws to be "over-verbalised multi-symbolistic lyrics", not enough collaboration with Ronson when making it and the presence of Garson on piano.[80]

Other British writers gave more positive assessments, with Val Mabbs of Record Mirror citing it as Bowie's best work up to that point.[81] Also writing for Phonograph Record, Ron Ross stated that with the record, Bowie has proven himself to be "one of the most consistent and fast-moving artists since the Beatles". Ross considered side one "the tightest, and probably the best, work Bowie has ever recorded".[82] Writer Charles Shaar Murray of the NME felt Aladdin Sane was a strong contender for album of the year, further calling it "a worthy contribution to the most important body of musical work produced in this decade."[83] The Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote a few years later that his favorite Bowie album had been Aladdin Sane, "the fragmented, rather second-hand collection of elegant hard rock songs (plus one Jacques Brel-style clinker) that fell between the Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs concepts. That Bowie improved his music by imitating the Rolling Stones rather than by expressing himself is obviously a tribute to the Stones, but it also underlines how expedient Bowie's relationship to rock and roll has always been."[84]

Subsequent events[edit]

In February 1973, shortly after Aladdin Sane was completed, Bowie and the band returned to the road for the final portion of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which Pegg refers to as the "Aladdin Sane Tour". The same personnel from the album returned for the tour, with the addition of guitarist John Hutchinson, who had previously performed with Bowie in various projects throughout the late 1960s.[85] With the exception of "Lady Grinning Soul",[17] all tracks from Aladdin Sane were added to the setlist. Bowie drastically increased his stage demeanor for this portion of the tour, becoming more open and ambiguous compared to the shy persona of previous performances. He also underwent numerous costume changes during the shows, even representing the Aladdin Sane character through the use of mime and masks.[85]

This portion of the tour commenced in the United States before continuing to Japan in April.[85][86] Bowie's stage presence was praised by Japanese audiences and reviewers, with The Japan Times hailing him as theatrically "perhaps the most interesting performer ever in the pop music genre".[85] On his arrival back to the UK in early May, where Aladdin Sane had just topped the chart, Bowie's popularity had sourced in his home country; the final UK leg of the tour sold out completely. The UK leg made small setlist changes and introduced backdrop banners containing the blue and red lightning bolt Bowie donned on the Aladdin Sane cover artwork. Despite a disastrous first show at London's Earls Court Arena, the remaining dates were successful, receiving acclaim from reviewers and audiences.[85]

The final date of the tour was 3 July 1973, which was performed at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The performance was documented by filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker in a documentary and concert film, which premiered in 1979 and commercially released in 1983 as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, with an accompanying soundtrack album titled Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.[87][88][89] At this show, Bowie made the sudden surprise announcement that the show would be "the last show that we'll ever do", later understood to mean that he was retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona. Although Ronson was told in advance, Bolder and Woodmansey were not, which led to rising tensions between the two and Bowie.[85][90] Additional conflicts regarding compensation led to Woodmansey's dismissal from the Spiders in July. Bowie's next album. Pin Ups—a covers album devised as a "stop-gap" record to appease RCA—was recorded during the summer of 1973, released in October,[91] and was Bowie's final album recorded with the Spiders, by then comprising only Ronson and Bolder.[85][92]


Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[94]
Christgau's Record GuideB+[95]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[96]
Rolling Stone[100]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[101]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[102]

Retrospectively, Aladdin Sane has received positive reviews from music critics but most reviewers have unfavorably compared it to its predecessor. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic believed that Aladdin Sane followed the same pattern as Ziggy Stardust, but for "both better and worse".[25] While he praised the album for presenting unusual genres and being lyrically different, he criticised Bowie's cover of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together", calling it "oddly clueless", and contended that "there's no distinctive sound or theme to make [a cohesive record]; it's Bowie riding the wake of Ziggy Stardust, which means there's a wealth of classic material here, but not enough focus to make the album itself a classic".[25] Pitchfork's Douglas Wolk also found it too similar to its predecessor, calling it "effectively Ziggy Stardust II, a harder-rocking if less original variation on the hit album".[98] He writes that while Ziggy Stardust ended with a "vision of outreach to the front row" in the lyrics of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", Aladdin Sane is "all alienation and self-conscious artifice, parodic gestures of intimacy directed to the theater balcony".[98] NME editors Roy Carr and Murray called the album "oddly unsatisfying, considerably less than the sum of the parts".[8] In a 2013 readers' poll for Rolling Stone, Aladdin Sane was voted Bowie's sixth best record. The magazine argued that it proved Bowie was not a "one-album wonder".[103]

Like music critics, Bowie's biographers have mostly compared Aladdin Sane to its predecessor unfavourably. Pegg writes that it feels more rushed than Ziggy.[104] Carr and Murray contend that "It was all too obvious that the heat was on... The songs were written too fast, recorded too fast and mixed too fast."[8] Marc Spitz states that Bowie might have moved on from the Ziggy persona sooner had it not been for the pressure from his music publisher MainMan. Despite the record being critically viewed as inferior to its predecessor, Spitz calls it one of Bowie's classics and the songs "top-notch", and felt it ultimately showed that at the time Bowie was "still way ahead of the game".[29] Pegg calls it "one of the most urgent, compelling and essential of Bowie's albums".[104]

It was almost like a treading-water album ... but funnily enough, in retrospect, for me it's the more successful album, because it's more informed about rock'n'roll than Ziggy was.[104]

—David Bowie discussing Aladdin Sane in the 1990s

Biographer Paul Trynka describes it as both "slicker and sketchier" than Ziggy, and argues that "[it] is in some ways a more convincing document on the nature of fame and show business than [its predecessor]".[105] Doggett similarly describes Aladdin Sane as arguably a more "real" and "rewarding" album than its predecessor, with a "Stones-inspired, vivid production" outdoing the "somewhat flat sonic canvas" of Ziggy, but concludes that while Ziggy is more than the sum of its parts and has a long-lasting legacy, Aladdin Sane is "its songs, its sleeve, and nothing more".[106] Perone finds the record not as accessible as its predecessor, deducing that with less "melodic and harmonic hooks" and lyrics that are "darker and more inwardly focused and analytical", the result is an that is "not as well remembered" as Ziggy.[27] Nevertheless, Billboard's Joe Lynch considered Aladdin Sane just as influential on glam rock as a whole as its predecessor. He states that both records "ensured [Bowie's] long-term career and infamy" and argues that both "transcended" the genre, are "works of art", and are not just "glam classics", but "rock classics".[107]

In 2003, Aladdin Sane was ranked among six Bowie entries on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (at No. 277), and No. 279 in a 2012 revised list.[108] It was later ranked No. 77 on Pitchfork's list of the top 100 albums of the 1970s.[109] In 2013, NME ranked the album 230th in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[110] The album was also included in the 2018 edition of Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[111] Based on Aladdin Sane's appearances in professional rankings and listings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists it as 20th most acclaimed album of 1973, the 159th most acclaimed album of the 1970s and the 569th most acclaimed album in history.[112]


The album has been reissued several times, initially being released on CD in 1984 by RCA.[113] In 1990, Dr. Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital, Southborough, Massachusetts,[114] remastered Aladdin Sane from the original master tapes for Rykodisc, which released it with no bonus tracks.[115] It was again remastered in 1999 by Peter Mew at Abbey Road Studios for EMI and Virgin Records, and once more released with no bonus tracks.[116]

In 2003, a 2-disc version was released by EMI/Virgin.[117] The second in a series of 30th Anniversary 2CD Edition sets (along with Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs), this release includes a remastered version of the album on the first disc. The second disc contains ten tracks, a few of which had been previously released on the 1989 collection Sound + Vision.[118] A 40th anniversary edition, remastered by Ray Staff at London's AIR Studios, was released in CD and digital download formats in April 2013.[119] This 2013 remaster of the album was included in the 2015 box set Five Years 1969–1973 and rereleased separately, in 2015–2016, in CD, vinyl and digital formats.[120][121][122] A 12" limited edition of the 2013 remaster, pressed in silver vinyl, was released in 2018 to mark the 45th anniversary of the album.[123]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by David Bowie, except "Let's Spend the Night Together", written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.[124]

Side one

  1. "Watch That Man" – 4:30
  2. "Aladdin Sane (1913–1938–197?)" – 5:06
  3. "Drive-In Saturday" – 4:33
  4. "Panic in Detroit" – 4:25
  5. "Cracked Actor" – 3:01

Side two

  1. "Time" – 5:15
  2. "The Prettiest Star" – 3:31
  3. "Let's Spend the Night Together" – 3:10
  4. "The Jean Genie" – 4:07
  5. "Lady Grinning Soul" – 3:54


According to the liner notes and biographer Nicholas Pegg:[7][124]


  • David Bowie – producer, arrangements
  • Ken Scott – producer, engineer
  • Mick Moran – engineer
  • Mick Ronson – arrangements

Charts and certifications[edit]


  1. ^ a b There is some debate about the release date. Previously reported as 13 April 1973,[64][69] in 2018, Bowie's official website stated that new evidence had come to light proving that the official release date was 20 April 1973, but because this was Good Friday (a public holiday in the UK), the album was made available on 19 April.[70]
  2. ^ While Pegg doubts the existence of "Zion", as it is not registered with any of Bowie's music publishers,[23] Cann writes that Rykodisc considered it for inclusion on the 1990 reissue of Aladdin Sane but Bowie rejected it.[19]
  3. ^ After Bowie's death, Lennear revealed that he personally contacted and informed her "Lady Grinning Soul" was about her.[54]


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External links[edit]