In the diverse and unique career that was David Bowie, there are an astonishing number of albums that truly deserve the title “classic”. Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station, Low, Scary Monster. All are rightly held up as both ground-breaking and exemplary (the two don’t always go hand-in-hand). But if there was one record that can be held up as the archetypal David Bowie album, it has to be this one.
The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (hereafter referred to as just plain Ziggy Stardust) was the album the truly launched Bowie into the stratosphere. A loose concept album whose theme was largely pieced together after many of the songs had been recorded, it follows the career arc of an androgynous, bi-sexual, alien rock star. Bowie, always fascinated by theatre and playing a part, immersed himself into the role, and over time it became impossible for the audience, or for Bowie himself, to separate the actor from the character. Eventually this led Bowie, little more than a year from the release of the album, to announce, live from the stage at Hammersmith Odeon, and to the evident shock of the audience, that this was “the last show that we’ll ever do”. In retrospect, this was interpreted as signifying the retirement of the Ziggy persona rather than Bowie himself. But the year spent as Ziggy took its toll on Bowie, it “wouldn’t leave [him] alone for years”, and arguably contributed to the downward spiral that Bowie’s personal life took in the subsequent years, something only stemmed by his move to Berlin in 1977.
The songs on Ziggy Stardust were recorded with the band that, in the same way that Bowie became Ziggy, became the Spiders from Mars, namely Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, and Woody Woodmansey in drums. In many ways a more conventional rock album than Bowie’s material that both preceded (Hunky Dory) and followed (Aladdin Sane) it, Ziggy was full-on Glam rock, but in a way that both took it to an extreme of “high-heeled boots, multicoloured dresses, extravagant makeup and outrageous sexuality”, yet also avoided the cartoon-ish elements that often came associated with that genre. The music also contained elements that made it both a template and inspiration for the sounds of punk that followed later in the decade.
Astonishingly for such a classic and influential album, Ziggy Stardust didn’t set the commercial world alight. Yes, it was a success, but the album only peaked at number 5 in the charts (number 75 in the US, where Bowie’s biggest success was to come later in the decade), and Starman was the only truly successful single from the album (written, apparently, when the record label – RCA – complained that there weren’t any single-worthy songs on the album), yet even that only peaked in the UK singles chart at number 10. But Ziggy went on to sell 1.5m copies in the UK, making it the biggest selling album of Bowie’s career in the UK, selling 1.5m copies here, 1m in the US, and 7.5m in total worldwide.
And so here is the ukulele song book, with every song from the album. All songs are in the original keys, and mostly they are quite playable. I think that the more straight-ahead rock nature of the songs, and their relatively simplicity, makes this a more do-able affair than something like Hunky Dory, great though that album is. Which is why we’re going to be doing this at one of our future “play the album” nights – everybody welcome, details here!