Thin White Duke Dies

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust & Aladdin Sain Albums

Friday, January 15th, 2016

David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust Tour dressed in a striking costume, his hair dyed red, Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust stage show with the Spiders from Mars—Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey—at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth on 10 February 1972. The show was hugely popular, catapulting him to stardom as he toured the UK over the course of the next six months and creating, as described by Buckley, a “cult of Bowie” that was “unique—its influence lasted longer and has been more creative than perhaps almost any other force within pop fandom.” The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), combining the hard rock elements of The Man Who Sold the World with the lighter experimental rock and pop of Hunky Dory, was released in June. “Starman”, issued as an April single ahead of the album, was to cement Bowie’s UK breakthrough: both single and album charted rapidly following his July Top of the Pops performance of the song. The album, which remained in the chart for two years, was soon joined there by the 6-month-old Hunky Dory. At the same time the non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing”, and “All the Young Dudes”, a song he wrote and produced for Mott the Hoople, became UK hits. The Ziggy Stardust Tour continued to the United States.

Bowie contributed backing vocals to Lou Reed’s 1972 solo breakthrough Transformer, co-producing the album with Mick Ronson. His own Aladdin Sane (1973) topped the UK chart, his first number one album. Described by Bowie as “Ziggy goes to America”, it contained songs he wrote while travelling to and across the US during the earlier part of the Ziggy tour, which now continued to Japan to promote the new album. Aladdin Sane spawned the UK top five singles “The Jean Genie” and “Drive-In Saturday”.

Bowie’s love of acting led his total immersion in the characters he created for his music. “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.” With satisfaction came severe personal difficulties: acting the same role over an extended period, it became impossible for him to separate Ziggy Stardust—and, later, the Thin White Duke—from his own character offstage. Ziggy, Bowie said, “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”His later Ziggy shows, which included songs from both Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, were ultra-theatrical affairs filled with shocking stage moments, such as Bowie stripping down to a sumo wrestling loincloth or simulating oral sex with Ronson’s guitar. Bowie toured and gave press conferences as Ziggy before a dramatic and abrupt on-stage “retirement” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Footage from the final show was released the same year for the film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After breaking up the Spiders from Mars, Bowie attempted to move on from his Ziggy persona. His back catalogue was now highly sought after: The Man Who Sold the World had been re-released in 1972 along with Space Oddity. “Life on Mars?”, from Hunky Dory, was released in June 1973 and made number three in the UK singles chart. Entering the same chart in September, Bowie’s novelty record from 1967, “The Laughing Gnome”, reached number six. Pin Ups, a collection of covers of his 1960s favourites, followed in October, producing a UK number three hit in “Sorrow” and itself peaking at number one, making David Bowie the best-selling act of 1973 in the UK. It brought the total number of Bowie albums concurrently in the UK chart to six.

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