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The Ziggy Stardust Years
by Arthur King - Record Collector (February 1987)
Having gone out of the sixties in blaze of glory with his "Space Oddity" single, David Bowie entered the new decade with some trepidation. His relationship with Ken Pitt, his manager for the past five years, was faltering, while his musical career, so hopeful just a matter of months before, had collapsed once again.
A tour of ballrooms undertaken on the strength of "Space Oddity" had paired him with audiences totally unprepared for the introspection of the music on David's eponymous second album, released in November. His guitarist on that tour, Tim Renwick, remembers: "It was quite a strange affair, a bit of a lash-up really. David just wanted to go out and play, but I think the venues were rather unsuitable. They were very secondary to the idea of just playing". David himself admitted that the gum-chewing skinheads who bombarded him with lighted cigarette ends on those dates came close to turning him away from music altogether. "It turned me off the business, I was totally paranoid. They couldn't abide me! No way!"
He swiftly changed his mind, of course, but all the same, the indecision which had faced him was not something he could easily dispel - even the choice of a follow-up single to "Space Oddity" left him baffled. Three numbers were in with a chance: "The Prettiest Star", a song David wrote for his future wife, Angie; "London Bye Ta Ta"; and a reworking of one of the LP cuts, "Janine", with a few lines of the Beatles' "Love Me Do" worked into the arrangement. David's basic band of Tim Renwick, bassist John 'Honk' Lodge, drummer John Cambridge and guitarist Mick Wayne - in other words, four-fifths of the band Junior's Eyes - appeared on all three recordings, with Philips Records executive Ralph Mace supplying keyboards and, on "Prettiest Star" alone, Marc Bolan.
His arrival at the studio, with his wife June, had taken everybody by surprise, as had his acceptance of David's invitation to play. Despite innumerable tales to the contrary, this was the first and only time David and Marc were to record together prior to their duet on Marc's TV programme in 1977. Says producer Tony Visconti, "It was the only time they could have worked together. It was the only time their egos would have allowed it. But you could tell the rivalry between them was still there..."
Ken Pitt had been expecting "London Bye Ta Ta" to become the next single, but he had reckoned without the power of young love. When David played a demo of "The Prettiest Star" over the phone to Angie, her reaction alone was enough to persuade David to go with that as the single. "London Bye Ta Ta" and "Janine" were both shelved, and a month after "Prettiest Star" was released (to almost universal apathy), so was Ken Pitt. Seeking advice from Olaf Wyper, the General Manager at Philips/Mercury, David outlined his problems: he wanted to be successful, and Pitt was holding him back.
Wyper suggested David go to see one of three or four solicitors, whose names he gave him. One of those names was Tony DeFries, Wyper's own legal advisor, and it was to him that David eventually went, first to seek advice about finding his way out of his contract with Ken Pitt, and then about DeFries himself picking up the managerial reins. DeFries met both challenges with equal zest.
On February 3rd 1970, Junior's Eyes played their last gig with David, at the Marquee. Mick Wayne was suffering badly from a back problem, and would no longer be able to spend half his life cramped in a van travelling between gigs; David asked both Renwick and Cambridge to join him in a new line-up, but only John Cambridge agreed. "It was a very hard decision to make", says Renwick today, "but while I enjoyed working with David, there were certain things I couldn't relate to. I never doubted he would make it, though, I knew it was just a matter of time before he found his feet." (Today, Tim Renwick is one of the country's top sessionmen, working most recently with Eric Clapton n his 1985/86 tours.)
Renwick was replaced by Mick Ronson, one of just 129 people present at that last show, and a friend of John Cambridge - the pair had played together in Ronno's band, the Rats, in Hull.
With the Rats, Ronson recorded four singles prior to joining David's band: "Everyday I Have The Blues" (Oriole CB 1967), a version of Cream's "Spoonful" (Columbia DB 7483), "I Gotta See My Baby" (DB 7607) and "Sack Of Woe" (CBS 201740). He also played on Michael Chapman's "Fully Qualified Survivor" album (Harvest SHVL 764), on which he was joined by future Steeleye Span bassist Rick Kemp. Ronson did, in fact, suggest Kemp as a possible bassist for Bowie's band, but the singer eventually opted for Tony Visconti. Another ex-Rat, Mick Woodmansey, replaced John Cambridge around the same time.
With this line-up, David recorded his next single, a lengthy electric reworking of another song from his last album, "Memory Of A Free Festival". Split over two sides, it was a bizarre choice for release, and its poor sales did little to endear David to the Mercury label, for whom he had still to deliver a second album. That was "The Man Who Sold The World", recorded in April/May 1970, and notable more for the input of Ronson and Visconti than David Bowie - whose contributions, Visconti remembers, were laid down during the last three days of recording.
For collectors, "The Man Who Sold The World" is notable more for it's packaging than for its contents, which have, after all, since been reissued twice in this country alone. Three sleeves exist: the familiar 'dress cover' from the U.K., the American cartoon sleeve, and a circular effort created by Mercury in Germany. Of these, the cartoon is the commonest, having been widely available as a cut-out in the early-to-mid 1970s through the now defunct Harlequin chain.
The LP was accompanied on release by another single, "Holy Holy", but while that proved to be a flop, Tony DeFries and Bob Grace (head of Essex Music, David's publishing company) had a remedy of sorts up their sleeves. Grace took with him to the MIDEM festival a tape of one of David's latest songs, "Oh! You Pretty Things", with the express intention of giving it to Mickie Most. And while David trekked around the U.S. on a promotional tour, Most was making arrangements for Peter Noone to record the song.
1972 was Bowie's first year of consistent commercial success, with three hit singles and the 'Ziggy Stardust' album - plus a major U.K. tour.
Grace somehow persuaded Most not only to allow David to perform on Noone's recording of the song, but also to allow Noone to record three more of David's compositions. Of these, only one was to be released: "Right On Mother" was put out as the flip to "Walnut Whirl", the follow-up to the Top 10 success of "Oh! You Pretty Things".
This period without a doubt marks the beginning of David's period of greatest musical creativity. Remembers Bob Grace: "All of a sudden, all these great songs suddenly started appearing. We used to do all the demos at the Radio Luxembourg studios...we could never have more than a couple of inches of lead on the guitars, otherwise it acted as an aerial and picked up the mini-cab rank down the road. That was why the place was so cheap. But it suited us, simply because David was writing so much stuff. And he was getting really slick, so finally we decided to lease three of the demos to B&C Records, simply to try and get some money back. I think we got £300 for the three masters."
David was still contracted to Mercury at this time, so B&C could not use his name on the record label. David hit on the idea of creating a new act, Arnold Corns, and erecting a smokescreen around his own activities by making sure that Arnold himself - dress designer Freddi Buretti - accompanied him everywhere. David Introduced the art student as the new Mick Jagger, playing down his own involvement in the recordings by claiming that he would simply be producing the songs.
Freddi was supposed to be joined on record by his own band: guitarist Mark Carr Pritchard, bassist Polak de Somogyl, and drummer Ralph St. Laurent Broadbent. In fact, Pritchard was the only member of the group who actually existed! The backing on all three songs, "Moonage Daydream", "Hang Onto Yourself" and "Man In The Middle", was provided by Ronson, Woodmansey and yet another ex-Rat, Trevor Bolder. This Trio had occupied their time during David's U.S. visit by recording a single for Vertigo, "The Fourth Hour Of My Sleep", with vocals by the final ex-Rat, Benny Marshall. It was released under the name 'Ronno' and, says Mick Ronson himself, "it did nothing at all. Vertigo offered us a simple deal - here's a studio, go and make a record. That was it. And when the single flopped, things simply fell apart. Then David called and asked us if we wanted to come back and do some more stuff with him."
B&C got full mileage out of their three masters, releasing first "Moonage Daydream"/"Hang Onto Yourself", followed by "Hang Onto Yourself"/"Man In The Middle". Neither single did much - which is why they are both very scarce in their original format. A Mooncrest reissue of the second single, dating from 1974, is somewhat easier to locate, while the double A-side promo version of this release is currently valued at about £20.
In 1985, the tracks were repackaged on the Krazy Kat label. This 12" single is still on catalogue, and is particularly interesting because it features a studio version of the live favourite "Looking For A Friend", recorded at Trident Studios with engineer Roy Thomas Baker in June 1971.
Having freed David from his Mercury/Philips contract, Tony DeFries was now working all out to secure him a new deal. He pressed up 500 copies of a white label album featuring David on one side, and another of his clients (an old friend of David's) on the other side - Dana Gillespie. "David's side was mainly demos for songs which he later put on 'Hunky Dory'," Dana recalls. "My side was recorded with Mick (Ronson). We recorded four of five songs: 'Mother Don't Be Frightened' was one, then David came alone and we did 'Andy Warhol', which he had written for me. Then DeFries pressed the records up, and this was the ammunition with which he was going to get us a deal."
DeFries succeeded with both artists, contracting them to RCA - although it was to be another three years before Dana's first LP, "Weren't Born A Man", was released; both "Mother" and "Andy Warhol" were included on this album, with the latter issued as a single. David, on the other hand, began work for RCA almost immediately, and in November 1971 RCA America issued a promo single of two of the songs from his forthcoming album: "Eight Line Poem", which segued into "Bombers" (which, on the LP, would then have faded into David's own, inferior version of "Andy Warhol"). As it turned out, they were a little premature, as David substituted a new version of "Poem", and replaced "Bombers" with a romping version of Biff Jones' "Fill Your Heart". This very rare promo single marks the only official release of both "Bombers" and that particular mix of "Eight Line Poem".
"Changes" was eventually chosen as David's first single for RCA both in Europe and America, the only difference between the two releases being the intro to the B-side, "Andy Warhol". The U.K. version opens with a little of the studio backchat which prefaces the LP cut, while the U.S. one goes straight into the song. The LP from which both came, of course, was "Hunky Dory", released in December 1971, and therefore perfectly poised to take advantage of all the interest now growing up around David - which exploded with the famous "l'm gay" revelation in January 1972. Yet neither the album nor the single (which was Tony Blackburn's Record of the Week) took off, largely it has been suggested because certain interested parties were already looking towards David's future as a space invader, and didn't want him tied down to an album which made him sound like Randy Newman.
Throughout the spring, David and his band, now dubbed the Spiders, toured the U.K., effortlessly filling the small clubs into which DeFries had astutely booked them on word-of-mouth reputation alone. All that was to change in April, when RCA released a new single, "Starman", and album, "Ziggy Stardust". Both became sizeable hits and are therefore fairly easy to find today, although there are several very collectable variations available. "Starman" was initially issued in a picture sleeve, while the German version of the LP came in a gatefold sleeve, on which were printed the lyrics and the four band mugshots which, elsewhere, graced the inner sleeve.
"John I'm Only Dancing" followed "Starman" into the charts. This single is also available in a number of differing versions: the original 1972 release, published by Titanic/Chrysalis, and the punchier rendering recorded during the "Aladdin Sane" sessions in the New Year, and published by Mainman/Chrysalis, both bear the same catalogue number, RCA simply having replaced one with the other in the hope that no-one would notice. Then in 1979 Bowie himself unearthed a different mix of the original version, which was released as a double A-side with the 'plastic soul' recording, dating from 1975. Furthermore, an Italian single from 1972 pairs version one of the track with "Starman" (RCA N167O), while Portugal was granted an EP which featured both sides of both singles (RCA TP 656). Both of these were issued in picture sleeves.
In November 1972, "Jean Genie" became Bowie's third consecutive hit. It is essentially the same version of the song as later appeared on the "Aladdin Sane" album, although according to the label it was actually seven seconds shorter than the LP cut. Once again, a handful of alternate couplings appeared elsewhere - "Hang Onto Yourself" in America (RCA O838), "John l'm Only Dancing" in Japan (RCA 552235), etc. - but far more interesting are the permutations which were to grace the reissue of "Space Oddity" in December RCA had already released David's two Mercury/Philips albums, retitling the first as "Space Oddity", and giving both new, and inferior, sleeves which were duplicated on giveaway posters. America and Japan were now given reissue singles of "Oddity", backed by "lt Ain't Easy" in Japan (552252) and "The Man Who Sold The World" in the U.S. (O876). A promotional EP, featuring "Moonage Daydream" and "lt Ain't Easy" from the "Ziggy" LP, and "Life On Mars?" from "Hunky Dory" was also available in the States (EP 45103).
Despite the success of this reissue, it was another three years before "Space Oddity" appeared as a single again in Britain, coupled with "Changes" and another "Hunky Dory" out-take, "Velvet Goldmine" (remixed and released without David's approval). In the meantime, "Drive In Saturday" was lifted from the forthcoming "Aladdin Sane" LP, with its flip, " Round And Round", being culled from the "Ziggy" sessions. This latter song, a Ronson-inspired revamp of the old Chuck Berry standard, had originally been meant to appear on "Ziggy" instead of "Starman", and it was one of two songs recorded at Trident Studios during the spring of 1972 which were to appear independently of the LP. The other was a reworking of "The Supermen" from "The Man Who Sold The World", which David gifted to the "Glastonbury Fayre" benefit album (REV 1-3). Curiously, Britain alone was given this excellent single coupling: Italy was offered "Watch That Man"/"Let's Spend The Night Together" (N 1681); America and Japan both received bizarre edits of "Time" backed by a revamp of "The Prettiest Star" (U.S. RCA 0007), and "Panic In Detroit" (RCA 552299, Japan). "Let's Spend The Night Together"/"Lady Grinning Soul" was also released in America (0028), although in Britain "Drive In Saturday" was followed up by the welcome "Life On Mars?" from "Hunky Dory".
David Bowie at an RCA presentation ceremony in December 1973, where he received gold discs for worldwide sales of several of the hit singles from his five most recent albums.
The "Aladdin Sane" album itself was originally released in a gatefold sleeve, with a thick card inner sleeve bearing lyrics, and a gatefold card carrying details of David's fan club (55p membership!). This extravagant packaging has long since disappeared. Even before the LP was reissued on the budget RCA International label, the gatefold sleeve was down to single size, the inner sleeve was a piece of flimsy paper and the fan club material had gone altogether. A similar fate has met the lyric inserts which accompanied "Hunky Dory" and "Ziggy", and it is worth noting that only one of David's albums has actually gained from the passage of time recent pressings of "Young Americans" have come with the lyric sheet which was so conspicuously absent at the time of release.
Three continental singles which are of considerable interest to collectors are those supposedly released in Eastern Europe in 1973. Details are very hazy; many Bowie books mention them, but no-one seems to have actually seen any copies, although the first Russian hit parade, published in a London daily tabloid in 1973, did include "Cygnet Committee", one of the three singles which are said to exist. "Cygnet" was coupled with "Width Of A Circle" and was followed by "All The Madmen" / "Soul Love" and "Cracked Actor" / "John I'm Only Dancing".
No details of catalogue numbers or release dates are known to exist, although one would assume that at least one of them was issued to coincide with David's highly publicised Transiberia Express ride across the Soviet Union.
On July 3rd 1973, David 'retired' from active service, onstage at Hammersmith Odeon. A bootleg of this farewell show has existed since 1974, when ABC TV broadcast highlights from D.A. Pennebaker's film of the occasion, although it was not until 1983 that RCA themselves finally got around to releasing the set. David and Tony Visconti had by then remixed out all of the excitement and spontaneity which made the bootleg so worthwhile, although the RCA set does include an album's worth of extra material. Uninformed listeners, hearing this set for the first time, would be perfectly justified in asking, once it was all over what the fuss was all about. This was perhaps the most disappointing of all Bowie's RCA albums, after having been the most eagerly awaited.
David took advantage of his retirement to record a new LP, "Pin Ups", then to work on handful of disparate new projects. He had already produced hits for Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople, and a less successful Iggy Pop album, "Raw Power". Now he and Ronson linked up with Lulu for "Watch That Man" and "The Man Who Sold The World", issued as a single in 1974. Later, David was to produce a Lulu recording of "Can You Hear Me", after which he described the lady as "one of England's premier soul singers". Sadly the evidence behind that statement has yet to see the light of day.
David also guested as a croaking saxophonist on Steeleye Span's "Now We Are Six" LP, wheezing his way through a version of "To Know Him Is To Love Him". He put lyrics to Mick Ronson's "Hey Ma Get Papa" for the guitarist's first solo album, contributed one complete song, "Growing Up And I'm Fine", and offered a translation of "Music Is Lethal" for the same set. He rounded off the year by promising to record albums with Wayne County and Cherry Vanilla, two of the people whose influence had been so strong hen David had been piecing his recent public image together. Neither project got off the ground, sadly, although both artists later recorded under their own steam. Cherry's "Bad Girl" album featured one song, "Little Red Rooster", in which she let David know she was still waiting (RCA PL 25122, 1978; give it a listen, it's a great album!).
More important to David, or so it seem were two stage musicals he was working on. One was his own "Ziggy" cycle; the other was an adaptation of Orwell's "1984", which was blocked when Sonia Orwell announced that there was no way she was going to allow anybody to set her late husband's most harrowing work to music. Judging by the late efforts by Rick Wakeman and the Eurythmics she knew what she was doing!
The title track of "1984" was premiered at the '1980 Floor Show' concerts at the Marquee in October, two shows which coincided with the release of "Pin Ups". This was David's homage to the 1960s, and any number of stories exist about the various concept hatched by Bowie and Ronson before the final running order of the LP was settled. As it is, the only tracks from the sessions to have appeared outside the album are "Amsterdam" (the Jacques Brel song issued on the flipside of "Sorrow") and Lou Reed's "White Light, White Heat", the backing track of which was employed by Mick Ronson on his second solo set, "Play Don't Worry". Other recordings - Roxy Music's "Ladytron" and Springsteen's", "Saint In The City", for example - remain little more than wishful thinking at present.
The collapse of David's ambitions for stage shows saw highlights from both projects incorporated into his next studio album, "Diamond Dogs".
This was recorded with only one member of the "Pin Ups" band, drummer Aynsley Dunbar, who replaced Mick Woodmansey shortly after David's retirement. David now handled lead guitar duties, with his piece de resistance being "Rebel Rebel". This was issued as a single in two different versions. The first, an excellent echo-laden nix, was similar to the arrangement performed on the "Dogs" tour later that year, and was released very briefly in the U.S. only. The second was a remix of the LP version, taped in New York (whereas the rest of the set was recorded in London). The latter version is very common, but the former is incredibly scarce, though it does appear on several bootleg albums.
The "Diamond Dogs" album was swift to run into controversy, primarily because of the prominent genitalia displayed by the half Ziggy, half-doggy creature on the sleeve. This was subsequently airbrushed out by an obscenity-conscious RCA, but some copies did escape, to command high prices today. It might also be worth noting that the version of "We Are The Dead" on this album is timed at few seconds longer than that which later appeared on the B-side of the "TVC15" single although there is no difference between the two.
For some reason, RCA culled "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" from the "Ziggy" LP to follow up "Rebel Rebel". It flopped quite disastrously, a fate which also greeted the title track of the new album when that was also issued as a single. The B-side of this latter release offered a rehash of the four-year-old "Holy Holy", recorded during the "Aladdin Sane" sessions; a great version of "All The Young Dudes", recorded at the same time, remains tantalisingly unreleased. Indeed, as David moved into the crucial phase which was to see him transformed from space invader to plastic soul boy, his record sales reached a lower point than they had for two years - one reason, at least, being the dramatic change he was to undergo before the end of the year.
But while Bowie was quite happy to leave his past behind, RCA have been eager to revive it. Wholesale reissues, and isolated excerpts on various compilation albums, have kept the Ziggy Years as much in the public eye as David's more contemporary material. Few people would disagree with this policy. Back in 1972, an American reviewer suggested putting the "Ziggy Stardust" album in a time capsule for the benefit of future generations. How much better, then, if it should remain available for everybody, any time they want it. There is very little music around which could truly be described as ageless: the Ziggy years, however, could scarcely be given a more accurate epithet.
---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---