David Bowie is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of pop music. Born David Jones, he changed his name to Bowie in the 1960s, to avoid confusion with the then well-known Davy Jones (lead singer of The Monkees).
The 1960s were not a happy period for Bowie, who remained a struggling artist, awaiting his breakthrough. He dabbled in many different styles of music (without commercial success), and other art forms such as acting, mime, painting, and playwriting. He finally achieved his commercial breakthrough in 1969 with the song “Space Oddity,” which was released at the time of the moon landing.
Despite the fact that the literal meaning of the lyrics relates to an astronaut who is lost in space, this song was used by the BBC in their coverage of the moon landing, and this helped it become such a success. The album, which followed “Space Oddity,” and the two, which followed (one of which included the song “The Man Who Sold The World,” covered by Lulu and Nirvana) failed to produce another hit single, and Bowie’s career appeared to be in decline. However, he made the first of many successful “comebacks” in 1972 with “Ziggy Stardust,” a concept album about a space-age rock star. This album was followed by others in a similar vein, rock albums built around a central character and concerned with futuristic themes of Armageddon, gender dysfunction/confusion, as well as more contemporary themes such as the destructiveness of success and fame, and the dangers inherent in star worship.
In the mid 1970s, Bowie was a heavy cocaine abuser and sometime heroin user. In 1975, he changed tack. Musically, he released “Young Americans,” a soul (or plastic soul as he later referred to it) album. This produced his first number one hit in the US, “Fame.” He also appeared in his first major film, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). With his different-colored eyes and skeletal frame, he certainly looked the part of an alien. The following year, he released “Station to Station,” containing some of the material he had written for the soundtrack to this film (which was not used). As his drug problem heightened, his behavior became more erratic.
Reports of his insanity started to appear, and he continued to waste away physically. He fled back to Europe, finally settling in Berlin, where he changed musical direction again and recorded three of the most influential albums of all time, an electronic trilogy with Brian Eno “Low, Heroes and Lodger.” Towards the end of the 1970s, he finally kicked his drug habit, and recorded the album many of his fans consider his best, the Japanese-influenced “Scary Monsters.” Around this time, he played the Elephant Man on Broadway, to considerable acclaim.
The next few years saw something of a drop-off in his musical output as his acting career flourished, culminating in his acclaimed performance in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983). In 1983, he recorded “Let’s Dance,” an album which proved an unexpected massive commercial success, and produced his second number 1 hit single in the US. The tour which followed, “Serious Moonlight,” was his most successful ever. Faced with this success on a massive scale, Bowie apparently attempted to “repeat the formula” in the next two albums, with less success (and to critical scorn). Finally, in the late 1980s, he turned his back on commercial success and his solo career, forming the hard rock band, Tin Machine, who had a deliberate limited appeal. By now, his acting career was in decline. After the comparative failure of Labyrinth (1986), the movie industry appears to have decided that Bowie was not a sufficient name to be a lead actor in a major movie, and since that date, most of his roles have been cameos or glorified cameos. He himself also seems to have lost interest in movie acting. Tin Machine toured extensively and released two albums, with little critical or commercial success.
David Bowie – ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ (40th Anniversary Edition) – Album Review
by Annie Zaleski of ultimateclassicrock.com
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and David Bowie CD reissues.
First and foremost, there’s the 1990 Rykodisc re-release of his catalog, a series once coveted by collectors because of their generous sampling of rare bonus tracks.
Then there’s the 24-bit digitally remastered discs EMI sold in the late ’90s and, in recent years, the lavish repackaging of 1976’s ‘Station To Station.’ (This is but a brief sampling of the Bowie wares out there; here’s a more extensive list.)
To mark the 40th birthday of ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars,’ EMI has reissued the album yet again. Unlike the 30th anniversary double-CD reissue of the album—which included a disc of demos, alternate versions and rare tracks, as well as some niggling imperfections—the new version is just a remastered version of the original 11-song album. The catch: The polishing job was conducted by Ryan Staff, the original engineer at Trident Studios, where ‘Ziggy Stardust’ was originally recorded.
In Staff’s hands, the reissue of the album sounds fantastic: crisp, rich and warm. Individual parts of songs pop out from the mix—swooning strings (‘Five Years’), bar-boogie piano and the pennywhistle/sax interlude (‘Moonage Daydream’), a rumble-strip bass line (‘Suffragette City’) and acoustic strums (‘Rock & Roll Suicide’). The familiar songs feel revitalized and fresh, like they’re being unwrapped again for the very first time.
Bowie, whose voice was already wise beyond his then-25-years, sounds even more invested in the ill-fated Ziggy character on this new version. One minute he’s a scrappy musician scrambling to be known; the next, he’s a soulful crooner connecting with his fans; the next, he’s a flashy glam frontman intoxicated by fame and confidence; and finally, he’s a grizzled musician worn down by having to live up to his own myth.
Thanks to the sterling audio fidelity of this reissue, the enduring influence of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is also more pronounced. In fact, these nuances reveal some intriguing modern parallels; for instance, former White Stripes frontman Jack White seems to have been paying homage to the aesthetic of ‘It Ain’t Easy’ in his solo work.
With so many ‘Ziggy Stardust’ reissues out there already, the question remains: Is this particular version worth picking up? For Bowie completists, it’s a must-buy. Those with a previous CD reissue should also add this to their collection, as this is a superior version of the album. However, if you’re on the fence? In keeping with prevailing trends—and Bowie’s penchant for audio perfection—the vinyl version of the 40th anniversary reissue is where the bonus goodies are. Besides the remastered LP, it has an audio DVD with a 5.1 mix of the album and unreleased 2003 stereo mixes of several songs, including ‘Velvet Goldmine.’
Get more at davidbowie.com