The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 16 June 1972
Recorded 9 July 1971; November 1971; 12–18 January 1972; 4 February 1972[1]
Studio Trident Studios, London
Length 38:29
Label RCA Records
David Bowie chronology
Hunky Dory
(1971)Hunky Dory1971
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Aladdin Sane
(1973)Aladdin Sane1973
Singles from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
and the Spiders from Mars
  1. "Starman"
    Released: 28 April 1972
  2. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
    Released: 11 April 1974
  3. "Suffragette City"
    Released: 9 July 1976

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust) is the fifth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 16 June 1972 in the United Kingdom. It is a concept album telling the story of a fictional rock star named Ziggy Stardust.[3] It peaked at No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 75 in the United States on the Billboard 200 chart.

The album tells the story of Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Bowie created Ziggy Stardust while in New York City promoting Hunky Dory and performed as him on a tour of the United Kingdom, Japan and North America.[4] The album, and the character of Ziggy Stardust, was known for its glam rock influences and themes of sexual exploration and social commentary. These factors, coupled with the ambiguity surrounding Bowie's sexuality and fuelled by a ground-breaking performance of "Starman" on Top of the Pops,[5] led to the album being met with controversy and since hailed as a seminal work.[6]

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has received critical acclaim and has been consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it the 35th greatest ever.[7] It was ranked the 20th greatest album ever in a 1997 British survey, the 41st greatest of all time by Q magazine and one of the 100 greatest releases ever by Time magazine. In 2017, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" by the Library of Congress.[8]

A concert film of the same name, directed by D. A. Pennebaker, was recorded in 1973 and released a decade later in 1983.


The album presents the vague story of a rock and roll character called Ziggy Stardust,[9] the human manifestation of an alien being who attempts to present humanity with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence. Ziggy Stardust represents the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous and wild in drug intake, but with a message of peace and love. He is destroyed both by his own consumptions, and by the fans he inspires.[citation needed]

David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust Tour

The character was inspired by British rock 'n' roll singer Vince Taylor whom David Bowie met after Taylor had had a breakdown and believed himself to be a cross between a god and an alien,[10][11] though Taylor was only part of the blueprint for the character.[12] Other influences included the Legendary Stardust Cowboy[13] and Kansai Yamamoto, who designed the costumes Bowie wore during the tour.[14] The Ziggy Stardust name came partly from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and partly, as Bowie told Rolling Stone, because Ziggy was "one of the few Christian names I could find beginning with the letter 'Z'".[15] He later explained in a 1990 interview for Q magazine that the Ziggy part came from a tailor's shop called Ziggy's that he passed on a train, and he liked it because it had "that Iggy [Pop] connotation but it was a tailor's shop, and I thought, Well, this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy. So Ziggy Stardust was a real compilation of things."[16][17]

Bowie covered a Legendary Stardust Cowboy song, "I Took a Trip (On a Gemini Spaceship)", thirty years later on Heathen.


In 1990, Bowie said that he had recorded "about half of the Ziggy album" before Hunky Dory was released, claiming that he had to release Hunky Dory due to his recording contract with his label.[18] Sessions in November 1971 produced "Hang on to Yourself", "Ziggy Stardust", "Rock 'n' Roll Star" (later shortened to "Star"), "Moonage Daydream", "Soul Love", "Lady Stardust", and "Five Years".

Also recorded during the November sessions were two more cover songs intended for the as-yet untitled album. They were Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" (re-titled "Round and Round") and Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam" (re-titled "Port of Amsterdam"). A re-recording of "Holy Holy" (first recorded in 1970 and released as a single, to poor sales, in January 1971) was initially slated for Ziggy, but was dropped in favour of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide". All three songs were eventually released as b-sides. "Velvet Goldmine", also recorded in November 1971, was intended for Ziggy, but was replaced by "Suffragette City". RCA released it in 1975 as the B-side to the UK re-release of "Space Oddity" after having it remixed and mastered without Bowie's approval.

On the album's final running order, "Round and Round" was replaced by "Starman", and the Ron Davies cover "It Ain't Easy" replaced "Amsterdam". "It Ain't Easy", recorded on 9 July 1971 during the Hunky Dory sessions, closed the first side of the album.

After recording some of the new songs for radio presenter Bob Harris's Sounds of the 70s as the newly dubbed Spiders from Mars in January 1972, the band returned to Trident in early February to record the final master takes of "Starman", "Suffragette City" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide". (Some of the radio performances appear on Bowie at the Beeb.)

"Starman", released as a single in April 1972 (and not intended for the final album at first), originally featured a "loud mix" of the "morse code" section between the verse and the chorus.[19] This single mix appeared on the original UK album, but not on other vinyl editions of the album internationally (which had a more subdued mix of this section), and it did not appear on CD until the song was included on the compilation album Nothing Has Changed (2014).

"Suffragette City", the b-side to "Starman", was mastered for the album with a three-note coda leading in from "Ziggy Stardust" to make the songs sound linked.

Recorded and released during the ensuing Ziggy tour were two other songs. The first, "John, I'm Only Dancing", was recorded at Trident in late June and released (in the UK only) in September. "The Jean Genie", recorded at RCA Studios in New York in early October at the start of the American tour, was released in the US in November. The song was remixed for Aladdin Sane.

Rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman was given the opportunity to play keyboards on the album but opted to join the progressive rock group Yes instead.[20]

Ziggy Stardust story[edit]

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is about a bisexual alien rock superstar; the concept album sheds a light on the artificiality of rock music in general, discussing issues of politics, drug use, and sexual orientation.[21] The album was intended by Bowie to serve as the soundtrack and musical basis for a stage show and/or television production telling the story of Ziggy Stardust.[citation needed] As well as the songs on the album, Bowie also intended songs such as "All the Young Dudes", "Rebel Rebel" and "Rock 'n' Roll with Me" (the latter two later recorded for Diamond Dogs) for this realisation of the Ziggy story.[citation needed]

In a Rolling Stone interview with William S. Burroughs, Bowie expanded on the Ziggy Stardust story:

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. 'All the young dudes' is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite. ...

The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I've made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage. ...

Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes 'Starman', which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately ... The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox ... Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song 'Rock 'n' roll suicide'. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.[22]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[23]
Blender 5/5 stars[24]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[25]
Christgau's Record Guide B+[26]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[27]
Pitchfork 10/10[28]
Q 5/5 stars[29]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[30]
Spin 5/5 stars[31]
Uncut 5/5 stars[32]

Ziggy Stardust was released on 16 June 1972 in the UK,[33] where it entered the top 10 in its second week on the UK Albums Chart. After dropping down the chart in late 1972 the album began climbing the chart again, peaking at No. 5 in February 1973.[34] The album was released several weeks earlier in the US and peaked at No. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart in April 1973.[35] It was eventually certified platinum and gold in the UK and US respectively.[36][37] The first single from the album, "Starman", charted at No. 10 in the UK while peaking at No. 65 in the US.

The album returned to the UK chart on 31 January 1981, amid the New Romantic era that Bowie had helped inspire. This reissue peaked at No. 33 and remained on the chart for 62 weeks. It was followed by a reissue of Aladdin Sane, which spent the first of 24 weeks on the chart in March 1982.[38] In the wake of Bowie's death in January 2016, the album reached a new peak of No. 21 in the US.[39] It has sold an estimated 7.5 million worldwide, making it Bowie's second-best-selling album.[40]

In Rolling Stone, dated 20 July 1972, writer Richard Cromelin gave the album a favourable review of "at least a 99" (assumed out of 100). But while Cromelin thought it was good, he felt that the record and its style might not be of lasting interest. "We should all say a brief prayer," he suggested, "that his fortunes are not made to rise and fall with the fate of the 'drag-rock' syndrome".[41][42]


In 1987, as part of their 20th anniversary, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 6 on "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years." In 1997, Ziggy Stardust was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the UK by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998, Q magazine readers placed it at No. 24 and Virgin All-time Top 1000 Albums ranked it at No. 11, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at No. 48. It was named the 35th best album ever made by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2000 Q placed it at No. 25 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2004 it was placed at No. 81 in Pitchfork Media's Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In his 1995 book, "The Alternative Music Almanac", Alan Cross placed the album at No. 3 on the list of '10 Classic Alternative Albums'. In 2006, the album was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time.[43]

In 2005, Brazilian singer Seu Jorge did a cover album of 14 Bowie songs, many of them from Ziggy Stardust, as a soundtrack for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou called The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. The translation into Portuguese is not always exact, as Seu Jorge maintains the melodies and styles, but often varies the lyrics. Bowie himself said of Seu Jorge's covers: "Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with".[44] Musician Saul Williams named his 2007 Trent Reznor-produced album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!. In 2009, Techno Cowboy covered the entire album from start to finish using just the Omnichord called "The Ziggy Stardust Omnichord Album".

In 2012, on the 40th anniversary of the album's release, a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the location of the cover photo on Heddon Street in London.

After Bowie's death from cancer on 10 January 2016, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 to achieve a new peak of No. 21.

The album was covered as part of rock band Phish's Halloween 'musical costume' on 31 October 2016.[45]

Artwork and packaging[edit]

The album cover photograph was taken outside furriers "K. West" at 23 Heddon Street, London, W1.,[46] looking south-east towards the centre of the city. Bowie said of the sign, "It's such a shame that sign went [was removed]. People read so much into it. They thought 'K. West' must be some sort of code for 'quest.' It took on all these sort of mystical overtones."[47] The post office in the background (now "The Living Room, W1" bar) was the site of London's first nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, which opened in 1912. As part of street renovations, in April 1997 a red "K series" phonebox was returned to the street, replacing a modern blue phonebox, which in turn had replaced the original phonebox featured on the rear cover.[48]

Of the album's packaging in general, Bowie said:

We did the photographs outside on a rainy night, and then upstairs in the studio we did the Clock Orange look-alikes that became the inner sleeve. The idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell thing with the one mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys, by William S. Burroughs. That was a really heavy book that had come out in about 1970, and it was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burrough's Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic."[47]

The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010.[49][50] The rear cover of the original vinyl album bore the instruction "TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME". The instruction was omitted, however, from the EMI 1999 re-release.[51]

In March 2012, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street and Heddon Street, installed a commemorative brown plaque at 23 Heddon Street in the same place as the "K. West" sign on the cover photo. The unveiling was attended by original band members Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, and was unveiled by Gary Kemp.[52] The plaque was the first to be installed by The Crown Estate and is one of the few plaques in the country devoted to fictional characters.[53] The sign above Bowie's head was installed by Barry Lomax in the mid-1960s while working for the London depot of Brighton sign company Bush Signs.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Five Years" 4:42
2. "Soul Love" 3:34
3. "Moonage Daydream" 4:40
4. "Starman" 4:10
5. "It Ain't Easy" (Ron Davies) 2:58
Total length: 20:04
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Lady Stardust" 3:22
7. "Star" 2:47
8. "Hang On to Yourself" 2:40
9. "Ziggy Stardust" 3:13
10. "Suffragette City" 3:25
11. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" 2:58
Total length: 18:25 38:29


Additional personnel


CD releases[edit]

Ziggy Stardust was first released on CD in November 1984 by RCA. The digital master recording was made from the equalised master tapes used for the LP release.[54]

1990 Rykodisc/EMI Dr. Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital Recording, Southborough, Massachusetts,[55] remastered Ziggy from the original master tapes for Rykodisc, who released it with five bonus tracks:

  1. "John, I'm Only Dancing" (1979 remix of 1972 single) – 2:43
  2. "Velvet Goldmine" (Single B-side from the 1975 RCA re-release of "Space Oddity"; original recording from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars sessions, 1971) – 3:09
  3. "Sweet Head" (Previously unreleased outtake) – 4:14
  4. "Ziggy Stardust" (Demo) – 3:35
  5. "Lady Stardust" (Demo) – 3:35

1999 EMI/Virgin The album was remastered by Peter Mew at Abbey Road Studios and released on 6 September 1999 by EMI without bonus material – the same track listing as the original LP and 1984 CD release.

2002 EMI/Virgin On 16 July 2002, a 2-disc version was released by EMI/Virgin. The first in a series of 30th Anniversary 2CD Editions, this release included a newly remastered version as its first CD. The remaster on this edition reverses the left and right stereo channels on the first disc and many of the songs have been edited. Among other things, the three-note bridge between "Ziggy Stardust" and "Suffragette City", and the count-in to "Hang on to Yourself" are missing.[56]

The second disc contains twelve tracks, most of which had been previously released on CD as bonus tracks of the 1990–92 reissues. "Sweet Head" is the same version as on the 1990 reissue, but with extended studio banter in the beginning. The new mix of "Moonage Daydream" was originally done for a 1998 Dunlop television commercial. The bonus tracks:

  1. "Moonage Daydream" (Arnold Corns version) – 3:53
  2. "Hang on to Yourself" (Arnold Corns version) – 2:55
  3. "Lady Stardust" (Demo) – 3:34
  4. "Ziggy Stardust" (Demo) – 3:38
  5. "John, I'm Only Dancing" – 2:49
  6. "Velvet Goldmine" – 3:14
  7. "Holy Holy" (1971 re-recording) – 2:26
  8. "Amsterdam" (Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman) – 3:25
  9. "The Supermen" (Alternate version, recorded for the Glastonbury Fayre in 1971, originally released on Glastonbury Fayre Revelations – A Musical Anthology, 1972[57] and on CD on 1990s Rykodisc/EMI Hunky Dory) – 2:41
  10. "Round and Round" (Chuck Berry) – 2:44
  11. "Sweet Head" – 4:53
  12. "Moonage Daydream" (New mix) – 4:47

All tracks written by David Bowie, except as noted.[56]

At the same time, a hybrid SACD version was released, which includes high resolution stereo and 5.1 mixes.

Personnel (only on tracks where it differs from album)

  • David Bowie – vocals (tracks 1, 2), guitar (tracks 1, 2 and 4,) piano (tracks 1–3)
  • Freddie Burretti – vocals (tracks 1, 2)
  • Peter De Somogyl – bass guitar (tracks 1, 2)
  • Mark Carr Pritchard – guitar (tracks 1, 2)
  • Tim Broadbent – drums (tracks 1, 2)
  • Lindsay Scott – violin (track 5)

2012 EMI/Virgin On 4 June 2012, a "40th Anniversary Edition" was released by EMI/Virgin. This edition was remastered by original Trident Studios' engineer Ray Staff (at London's AIR Studios).

It was made available on CD and a special, limited edition format of vinyl featuring the new 2012 remaster, together with a 5.1 mix and high resolution audio on DVD, including previously unreleased 5.1 and stereo bonus 2003 Ken Scott mixes of the album, as well as of "Moonage Daydream" (instrumental), "The Supermen", "Velvet Goldmine" and "Sweet Head".[58]

The 2012 remaster of the album and the 2003 remix were both included in the 2015 box set Five Years 1969–1973.[59][60] The album, in its 2012 remastering, was also rereleased separately, in 2015–2016, in CD, vinyl, and digital formats.[61]


Weekly charts[edit]

Year Chart Peak position
1972 UK Albums Chart[62] 5
1973 US Billboard 200[63] 75
2016 US Billboard 200[64] 21
2016 US Top Catalog Albums (Billboard)[65] 3


Year Single Chart Peak position
1972 "Starman" UK Singles Chart 10[66]
1972 "Starman" Billboard Pop Singles 65[67]
1974 "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" UK Singles Chart 22[66]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[68] Platinum 1,500,000[69]
United States (RIAA)[70] Gold $1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


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  69. ^ Lane, Daniel (9 March 2013). "David Bowie's Official Top 40 Biggest Selling Downloads revealed!". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  70. ^ "American album certifications – David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH

Further reading[edit]

  • Goddard, Simon (2013). Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust. Ebury. ISBN 978-0-09-194888-7. 
  • Weisbard, Eric; Craig Marks (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8. 

External links[edit]