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Five Years

Side One: Five Years / Soul Love / Moonage Daydream / Starman / It Ain't Easy
Side Two: Lady Stardust / Star / Hang On To Yourself / Ziggy Stardust / Suffragette City / Rock n Roll Suicide

Albums: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (1972), Stage (1978), Santa Monica '72 (1994)

Singles: None issued

Time: 4:42



Video credit: Virgil PinK
 Performed live at The Old Grey Whistle Test (screened 8 Feb 1972).
Note: Some slight lyrical errors made in this performance

This website - The Ziggy Stardust Companion - takes its URL name ( from this wonderful opening song on THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1972). 

It was recorded in November 1971 at London's Trident Studios and was first premiered by Bowie and The Spiders on BBC radio's Sounds of the Seventies (Broadcast: 7 February 1972) and on UK TV (The Old Grey Whistle Test (Screened: 8th February 1972)) a full five months before the albums release. 

It was performed live at all Ziggy Stardust concerts in 1972 and 1973 except for the 3rd UK Tour and on the later Station to Station (1976) and Stage (1978) tours. Reportedly Bowie was going to include "Five Years" in his Live Aid set in 1985 but voluntarily dropped it in favour of the showing of the BBC Ethiopia news appeal film.

Why did Bowie choose five years as the period left till doomsday? Well, Bowie told a questioning Cleveland journalist in 1972 that he chose five years simply because: "It was a bad afternoon."

However, there are some other interesting coincidences/explanations:

* Five years was the length of Bowie's RCA contract.
* In 1972, five years was also the period left till Bowie reached 30 years of age.
* The best explanation, however, concerns a dream Bowie had in 1971 in which his deceased father came to him and told him that he had only five years left to live and that he must never fly again. That this dream was indeed the explanation for the "Five Years" song title was confirmed by Bowie himself on the Dinah Shore Show on 3 January 1976 where Bowie gave an excellent live performance of the song. Dinah introduced the song with the words: "...David told me, interestingly enough, just as he walked over to the bandstand, that this is a song that was a direct result of a dream he had..."

His half-brother Terry may also have been an influence: ".... My records were selling and I was being a man in demand....I thought of my brother and wrote "Five Years"... - Bowie (Part of a never completed or fully published autobiography titled THE RETURN OF THE THIN WHITE DUKE - this excerpt featured in Rolling Stone magazine in January 1976) 

* Other influences may have the been the similar "end of the world" science fiction of War of The Worlds and Day of the Triffids
* Two poems are also strong possibilities: Roger McGough's "At Lunchtime - A Story of Love" in which people cast off their sexual inhibitions on a bus in response to the news that the world will end at noon and William Blake's "London". 

Five Years original musical notation (Rainbow Concert)


The song documents the Earth's impending doom with only five years left before some unspecified disaster occurs and mankind is totally destroyed.

In a 1973 interview with Rollin Stone magazine Bowie stated:

"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 n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll.   There's no electricity to play it.  Ziggy's advisors tells him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news.  So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news."

Also in a 1974 interview with William Burroughs - "Beat Godfather meets Glitter Mainman" - Bowie discussed this crisis:

Burroughs: Could you explain this Ziggy Stardust image of yours? From what I can see it has to do with the world being on the eve of destruction within five years.
Bowie: 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.

Recording notes

Bowie did the vocal for "Five Years" in two takes in the recording studio.

"The track is one master. The vocal we did, unusually, in two takes purely for technical reasons. David starts very quietly and so in order to get the best sound I had to crank the level, BUT, as you know he eventually becomes a power house and so I had to change all the settings. The vocal range was quite different for the second half of the song, and so we had to adjust the levels to compensate for that." - Ken Scott

"So many first takes on this track.  Ronno's two ending guitars, one take each.  David's vocal first take beginning to end.  Well if I'm to be totally honest we did have to punch for four words "We've got five years".  We had to do that because by the end of the take David was bawling his eyes out.  He put so much into that vocal performance he was sobbing and just once those four words were completely incomprehensible and so we re-did them.  Not bad eh?" - Ken Scott

"This one was one of my favorites because it was the opening track to The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust. What was wanted was a drum beat to introduce the song itself and to set an atmosphere for the whole album. The idea of the song is that the world is ending in five years, so it was about finding a drumbeat that got that across – which was quite a challenge! I remember going through drum rolls, cymbal crashes and I kind of thought: 'Well if it's the end of the world… I can't be bothered! Haha!' You wouldn't be excited and you wouldn't feel like doing a lot. So, that beat came out of sort of despair and apathy, and then when the band comes in and David starts singing, it just feels right. It felt like a really good beginning, so I was quite proud of that. I nailed the brief by all reports! It's been a lot of people's favorite bit of drumming, which is always nice to hear. They'll say: 'Oh when 'Five Years' starts, it gives my spine a tingle when I hear it!' Well my spine was tingling when I played it!" - Woody Woodmansey

The songs beginning fading-in and ending fading-out theme idea came from Bowie. "David wanted it coming from nothing and going to nothing" - Ken Scott

"If you listen very carefully at the end as the orchestra dies out you can hear reverb on Woodys drums.  I actually kept the drums completely dry throughout, but back when this was recorded, the orchestra refused to wear headphones so we had to feed them the track thorugh large speakers.  If it was loud enough for the musicians to hear it was certainly loud enough to be picked up on the mics, therefore that brief moment of reverb on Woody comes from the reverb on the orchestra." - Ken Scott.


 Five Years (Bowie)

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV's
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don't think you knew you were in this song.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We've got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We've got five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got

Five years, five years, five years, five years...


---This page last modified: 14 Jan 2019---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)