David Bowie has been a figure of change in the music industry for four decades. But before the world knew Bowie for his ever-altering ego, and before he put on the funny blonde wig and started dancing with puppets in The Labyrinth, it knew him as the man behind flamboyant, “screwed-up eyes and screwed down hair-do,” Ziggy Stardust.
In 1973, Bowie released “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” The concept album told the story of Ziggy Stardust, a crazed rock star who, five years before the end of the world, claims to have received a message of hope from an alien savior.
The story of the album is complex involving the arrival a beings made entirely of anti-matter, and the eventual destruction of Ziggy.
Despite the confusion, the album stands as one of the most influential of all time, forging a path into the glam rock genre of music.
“Starman,” the first single from the album, introduced the world to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona. The song represents the folk background of British glam rock musicians with its simple acoustic beginning. And then Bowie defines the pop music of the next forty years with the Morse-code synthesizer riff that melts into the melody of “Over the Rainbow” in the chorus.
“Lady Stardust,” written as a tribute to Bowie’s influence, rival, and fellow glam rocker, demonstrates the influence of soul music on the psychedelic stylings of the 1970’s era of music. The simple piano, drum, and guitar combo of the song is a radical departure from the electric music of other songs such as “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust” and sets the tone for the slow fall of Ziggy Stardust.
“Ziggy Stardust,” is frequently acknowledged as the anthem of the glam rock movement, and has elements of several genres of rock from folk rock to protopunk. This song is the closest of hard rock of the album, and details Ziggy’s exile from the Spiders from Mars. The music is dominated by Bowie’s vocals, and the electric guitar is only rivaled in the album is only topped by Mick Ronson’s stunning solo at the end of “Moonage Daydream”, which describes the birth of Ziggy Stardust.
The album is bookended by two of Bowies most Avant-garde rock songs “Five Years” and “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” The two serve usher the listener in and out of Ziggy’s world. Both are a struggle against impending death. Their quiet beginnings that build into frantic, rock finishes mirror the five stages of death, with the ends coming far before the listener has accepted impending doom.
The Album paints a vivid picture when played through as a whole, but each individual song also stands powerfully by itself. This make “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” definitively Bowie’s most influential album, covering a range of genres in its duration, and prediction Bowies slew of future musical shifts.