It’s time for RockClub…a book club, but for albums. Where we give you some suggested listening and you get an excuse to carve out some time for music.

This week’s RockClub featured album was the 5th studio album from the Slim White Duke.

David Bowie’s
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The 1972 album spawned “Moonage Daydream”, “Ziggy Stardust” and of course “Suffragette City” the B-Side to ”Starman” which never even charted.

When it came out…critics were intrigued by the glam rock album even though the storyline left something to be desired.  Since then it’s gone on to great acclaim being called one of the most important rock albums and was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" by the Library of Congress.
Some history:
When Bowie was working on Hunky Dory, RCA Records heard it and signed him to a 3-album contract.  Some of the tracks off of Ziggy were recorded before Hunky Dory and the album was put together before the “concept” or story came about.

So, here’s the “concept”: 
Ziggy Stardust is a bisexual alien rock superstar for the last band on Earth and is here to save the world.

I had never listed to this album. It was hard to find on CD for a while.  I own Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane & Hunky Dory.  I own Ziggy on record…but just got a record player for Christmas last year and it’s not made its way into the rotation yet. I guess I was looking for a time like this to really immerse myself into it.

The Review:

So, it seems like the best time for me to sit down and listen to a whole album is after drinking a bunch of beers and putting the kids to sleep.  But…I made it happen!  Actually.  I don’t wanna brag but…I made it happen twice that night.  I really enjoyed this album.

I took the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the turntable.  The clicks & pops that proceeded the music were a welcomed sound…not a distraction.  It was like a campfire.  A campfire that was about to be invaded by a bisexual alien.  Who hasn’t been there before, amirite?

So, I poured me a glass of Jack Daniels Single Barrel whiskey and cranked it up as per the instructions on the back of the album cover.

“To be played at maximum volume,” it says.

“Five Years” This song sets up the “story”. We’ve got 5 years left on Earth. Some antiquated reverb vocal effects…but the angst in his voice makes up for it.  Passion is better than production.

“Soul Love” feels very old school rock & roll lyrically but turns very Bowie and the prechorus. Mick Ronson’s guitar is so recognizable. Hey! Bowie actually plays saxophone? That’s a fun fact I didn’t know.

“Moonage Daydream” is a fun trippy song. Bowie doubling his vocals makes a distinct sound.

Don’t judge me, but I’m more familiar with Rocky Horror Picture Show than Ziggy Stardust. And I have a feeling they are brothers or sisters or whatever the non-binary distinction is these days. But the breakdown reminds me of the sweet transvestite.

I’d love to know how they get those guitar effects. What could be a pedal now...or an app on your phone probably was the size of Volkswagen.

“Starman” This was the single? Yeah, the 70’s were an odd decade. The 12-string is prominent and I love that it’s used in a rhythmic way not as a plinks plinky “Dust in the Winf” sort of way. This isn’t The Byrds, this is a bisexual alien ready to save the Earth.

“It Ain’t Easy” Harpsichord? 12-string? originally written by Ron Davies, who wrote a ton of songs for 3 Dog Night,  Joe Cocker, Randy Travis, and Jerry Jeff Walker.

“Lady Stardust” Ronson is playing some cool minor key...off key chords.  This is generally believed to be written about Marc Boland from T.Rex

“Star” Reverb on the vocals man!! Reverb overload. Reverb must have sounded “spacey” back in 1972. Having just gone to the moon 3 years earlier, I can see why they had the obsession with aliens & space. The idea of a “rock & roll star” was a relatively new idea too!

“Hang on to yourself” My first introduction is Gilby Clarke from GNR solo album “The Hangover”. A fun rock & roll song. With handclaps and a cool driving guitar.

“Ziggy Stardust” It almost sounds like a duet. 2 kinds of vocals. Mick Woodmansey’s drums are great here. Hints of Sgt Pepper vocally…throwing in random descriptors and non-sequiturs.

“Suffragette City” Such an iconic opening. Quick sidebar…I was in a Ramones tribute band called Blitzkrieg Brats and we got invited to do a show at The Rocket Theatre where local bands picked David Bowie songs to play.  So, we did a punked-out version of Suffragette and Queen Bitch.  So, this song has a lot of nostalgia for me.  Shout out to JD, Paulie & Zippy Brat!

“Rock & Roll Suicide” Dwyer says this song…if in the right headspace…could make you cry. I can understand where he was coming from.  The passion in his voice gave me goosebumps and the horns are just perfect!

Curtis Clemons wrote his review and sent it in.

Ok, so gonna be honest…I have never listened to this album from start to finish and the only albums I own of his are Changes 1 and 2 which are just compilation albums.  So I have now listened to it probably 6 times all the way through and let me say ….WOW!!

I have been missing out…as this is just fantastic music and really is one of those albums that needs to be heard in one sitting and in order. There isn’t really one big radio hit on it (or at least that my 43-year-old self remembers hearing on the radio a lot). Starman may be the only one I heard prior to this week.

I loved the flow of this and it just seems to take you on a ride and honestly made me finally understand why so many musicians always rave about what a musical genius this man was. I came away after the first time wanting to hear it again and as I listened all week kept hearing a little more each time. With lyrics and all the different instruments being used sometimes almost hiding behind another. It was an onion I enjoyed peeling and after the 3rd time, I went to Ragged Records looking for a copy.  They didn’t have one so I ordered one from Discogs and it should be here soon and will now forever be in my collection.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the album from week one [Aerosmith “Rocks”] but I really want to thank you for putting this one in my ear hole and now I am also digging further into the Bowie catalog to see what else I may be missing 😊 Two favorites if I had to pick would be “Hang on to Yourself” and “Moonage Daydream.”

-Curtis Clemons

David Bowie: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

 

Listening to this whole record again is like learning a cool secret handshake.  You don’t know what it means exactly, except that knowing it makes you just a little cooler than the other kids.

 

Nodding to the late-sixties psychedelia, the space themed album finds Bowie lyrically still in coffeehouse poetry mode, but musically the band is really cooking.  Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder with Bowie are full tilt jamming on Moonage Daydream, Star, and Suffragette City.  Ronson would soon be out of the process (After Alladin Sane), but clearly this is some of their best writing.  He and Bowie made some crisp arrangements here that keep the songs sonically significant 50 years later.  ( Greta Van Fleet may mirror Zep, but you’ll hear plenty of Mick Ronson in their guitars, too)

 

‘Suffragette City’ starts off like a song that’s going to tear your face off, but settles into a fun circus-y romp while only the vocals stay edgy and punk (Still years before Punk would have a name and identity.)  I heard a story that the Sax part was written by Ronson, to be played by Bowie, but his chops were not there—so it ended up being a synth that sounds like a sax.

 

The whole record sounds like it’s tightly wound, from the drums to the stomping guitar sound.  Nothing on most of these songs seems to fade naturally.  High attack, little sustain keep these song still sounding urgent, even listening to them as a 50-something.  ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ is a number I could never get tired of.

 

Bowie sounds lonely and aloof at the same time, which is what initially appealed to me when I discovered this record in 1979.  I think he might have tried to recapture some of this urgency with his band Tin Machine many years later.

Bowie was so innovative during this period.  Still as much performance artist as musician. He just went about his business while the record company tried to make singles out of his music.  He was very concerned with what people thought of him, but the opposite when it came to his music.

-Greg Dwyer

Thanks to everyone who's participated in RockClub.  I know I've enjoyed it quite a bit and hope it's given you a reason to be intentional about listening to some music.