David Bowie: The Glam Rock Years
David Bowie Is Ziggy Stardust
When David Bowie dyed his hair orange and donned a revealing bodystocking, many commentators accused him of compromising rock music with showbiz, while manipulating the process of image and stardom. No doubt. This was Bowie the actor, starring as Ziggy Stardust on the stage of British glam rock.
Eschewing the fading seriousness of the hippie subculture, along with its fading denim jeans, Bowie created his most memorable character in 1972. Ziggy Stardust exploded onto the music scene, alongside contemporaries Marc Bolan, Elton John, and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music.
At the time, Glam rock was effectively in its infancy, but Bowie caused it to enter puberty with the release of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (which included the standout single, "Starman").
Over the next two years, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust pantomime would create a breath of fresh air, essentially ridiculing the pretensions of those who fell into the camp of the progressive rocker. Perhaps camp is the operative word here, as Bowie's outrageous lurex clothing and orange hair became the leading trademark of glam rock in the U.K.
However, there is no denying that many of the tracks produced by David Bowie during this era have become classics of rock, no matter how you wish to describe it.
1972: "Changes"—Hunky Dory
Released in early 1972, on the album Hunky Dory, "Changes" became the song that introduced the chameleon-like public persona of David Bowie. Soon after, he would shed his skin and appear as the character Ziggy Stardust.
1972: "Starman"—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
"Starman" was David Bowie's first British hit single since the song "Space Oddity" had appeared three years earlier. Appearances on popular music shows of the time propelled the song into the U.K. Top 10 and ensured that the image of Ziggy Stardust would be forever etched into the minds of the public.
1972: "John, I'm Only Dancing"
Released in the Autumn of 1972, "John, I'm Only Dancing" never appeared on an original album by Bowie. The meaning of the track has often been the subject of debate.
Listening to the lyrics, is this a gay taunt or simply the reassurances of a straight man? Whatever the answer, the song followed "Starman" on the U.K. Top 20, while conservative America bypassed the release of the track, judging it to be too lurid.
1973: "The Jean Genie"—Aladdin Sane
A song that could easily be described as one of David Bowie's signature tunes, "The Jean Genie," became his biggest hit when it reached number two on the U.K. music charts in 1973.
Oddly, it was competing with another glam rock track called "Blockbuster!" (a song that used a very similar riff to "The Jean Genie") by The Sweet for the number one position. On this occasion, The Sweet won the battle.
1973: "Drive-In Saturday"—Aladdin Sane
"Drive-In Saturday," One of the best tracks from Bowie's Aladdin Sane, is also considered one of his lost hits. It peaked at number three on the U.K. music charts and tells the story of a future post-apocalyptic world.
Having already recorded Bowie's "All the Young Dudes," the track was offered to Mott the Hoople, but lead singer Ian Hunter inexplicably turned it down. Fortunately, Bowie went on to record it himself.
1973: "Life on Mars?"—Hunky Dory
Although "Life on Mars?" was included on the album Hunky Dory, it wouldn't be until June 1973 that it would be released as a single. Though the track included some of Bowie's strangest lyrics, it soon found itself a top three hit in the Summer of 1973.
1973: "Sorrow"—Pin Ups
"Sorrow" is a cover of a song by a U.K. band called The Merseys, which was originally recorded in the mid-'60s. It was lifted from Bowie's album Pin Ups, which included twelve tracks that are favorites of Bowie from that period.
1974: "Rebel Rebel"—Diamond Dogs
"Rebel, Rebel" was David Bowie's last glam rock single before he moved on to dabbling in soul and funk and taking on the Thin White Duke persona.
As with most of Bowie's output at this time, the gender bending lyrics fit in well with the Ziggy Stardust character, as well as the camp nature of the music genre as a whole.
For proof of what got "mother in a whirl," check out the lyrics to Rebel, Rebel.
1974: "Diamond Dogs"—Diamond Dogs
"Diamond Dogs" was Bowie's last gasp glam rock single. It sounded more like punk rock than glam. As the title track from his latest album, it proved to be one of his least successful singles of this period, stalling at number 21 on the U.K. music charts.
Which of Bowie's glam rock songs here is your favorite?
© 2012 Richard