50 facts about ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and a new ‘Starman’ mix

David Bowie’s legendary album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars turns 50 today. In honor of that landmark date (when it was first released in the U.K.), Bowie’s label, Parlaphone, has released the 1972 Top of the Pops version of “Starman.” 

As the press release describes it, “Back in 1972, the Musicians Union rules stated that to appear on Top Of The Pops, the artist must re-record their track and, in this case, sing live over the top. This new version of “STARMAN” takes the backing track (recorded at Trident Studios on June 29) and backing vocals, featuring a one-off Bowie ad-lib “Hey Brown Cow,” recorded for the show and adds the lead vocals from the album version (recorded at Trident Studios on February 4). This new mix was created by ZIGGY STARDUST co-producer Ken Scott from the multi-tracks earlier this year.” 

The press materials also include a list of what they call “50 facts you might not know” about the legendary album. All 50 of these “facts” are included below. 

1. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars has in the past been mooted as both a stage play and a film.

2. The album was co-produced by Ken Scott, who had previously co-produced Hunky Dory, engineered “Space Oddity and mixed The Man Who Sold The World.

3. The famous cover photos were taken outside 21 Heddon Street just off Regent St in London in January 1972, where a pop-up shop was created this year to celebrate Bowie’s 75th birthday. The location was chosen as the photographer Brian Ward had his studio at 29 Heddon St.

4. Only 17 shots were taken in Heddon St itself. All of these were taken in black and white and then colorized by Terry Pastor, who also colorized the photo on the cover of Hunky Dory.

5. The fashion icon Kate Moss has worn four original outfits from the Ziggy Stardust period; the Kansai Yamamoto one legged jumpsuit, the red platform boots and two kimonos for Vogue magazine in 2003 and the Yamamoto ‘woodland creatures’ suit to accept a Brit Award on Bowie’s behalf in 2014.

6. The signature Ziggy red hair color was applied by Suzi Fussey, who was guitarist Mick Ronson’s girlfriend. The color was Schwarzkopf Red Hot Red, and the haircut cost Bowie £2. The hair was inspired by a model dressed by Kansai Yamamoto in a 1971 issue of Honey Magazine.

7. Even though they were not yet billed as such, the first Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars show took place on January 29, 1972, at the Friars Club, Borough Assembly Hall in Aylesbury Market Square. It is thought they unveiled six songs from the forthcoming album and Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen attended the show. Tickets cost 60p in advance and 65p at the door.

8. Bowie’s famous performance of “Starman” on Top Of The Pops was recorded on July 5 and was broadcast on July 6, and, as per Musicians Union rules, Bowie’s lead vocals were performed live. The backing track with backing vocals for Top Of The Pops was recorded on June 29 at Trident Studios with Ken Scott and featured Bowie’s one-off ad-lib “hey brown cow.”

9. Top Of The Pops was not the first performance of “Starman” on TV; the first took place on the Granada children’s music show Lift Off With Ayshea, presented by Ayshea Brough. It was recorded on June 15 and broadcast on the 21. Sadly no viewable copy of this performance has been found to exist.

10. Cover versions performed during the Ziggy Stardust tour included The Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” and “White Light, White Heat,” along with Jacques Brel’s “My Death and Amsterdam,” Chuck Berry’s “Round ‘n’ Round,” “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by The Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, “I Feel Free” by Cream and “Gotta Get A Job” by James Brown.

11. The Spiders From Mars were Mick Ronson on guitar, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey on drums and Trevor Bolder on bass. Over the next year, they would be joined on stage at various stages by Geoff MacCormack (aka Warren Peace) on vocals, Mike Garson, Nicky Graham and Robin Lumley on piano, John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson on rhythm guitar, Ken Fordham on saxophone and Brian Wilshaw on saxophone and flute.

12. Instead of releasing another single from the album as the follow up to “Starman,” Bowie opted for the non-album track “John, I’m Only Dancing” in September 1972. He also released one more single in 1972, “The Jean Genie,” which was taken from the forthcoming Aladdin Sane album.

13. In 2017, the Ziggy Stardust album was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Recording Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” by the Library of Congress.

14. Before the album and post its release, the band played over 170 shows across three continents. Even though the follow-up album Aladdin Sane was released during that time, the tour was always known as the Ziggy Stardust tour.

15. The song “Five Years” was unveiled to a TV audience on February 8, 1972, when he and the band performed three songs on the influential The OId Grey Whistle Test show on BBC2. The performance had been taped the day prior.

16. The album was released on June 16, 1972, and charted on July 1 at number 15. It was that week’s highest entry and was on the U.K.’s top 50 album chart for the next two years.

17. Beneath the album credits on the back cover were the words: “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME.” This instruction was omitted from later reissues but restored on the 2015 reissue, which was a faithful replication of the original as was possible.

18. The red platform Kansai Yamamoto boots on the album cover cost Bowie £28 (£420 today), and the white and red vinyl wrestling boots Bowie wears in other photos for the album were made bespoke by Russell & Bromley.

19. According to Ken Scott – the album’s co-producer – 95 percent of the vocals on the album were done in one take.

20. The album took less than two weeks to record over the span of three months (November 1971 to February 1972)

21. The most streamed track from the album is “Starman,” closely followed by “Moonage Daydream.”

22. The phone box that appears on the back of the album sleeve is no longer there. A blue one replaced it, but a red ‘K Series’ box was reinstated in 1997.

23. The phone box’s phone number is +44 207 734 8719.

24. K.West, as seen on the sleeve, was a furrier company and wrote to Bowie’s label to complain about the use of their sign on the sleeve.

25. The original K.West sign is now owned by a fan.

26. Where the K.West sign used to be, there is now a black plaque celebrating the album, which was unveiled for the 40th anniversary of the album.

27. Many influences for the album were mentioned by Bowie, including British rocker Vince Taylor, The Velvet Underground, the American cult artist The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and the writers William Burroughs and JG Ballard.

28. In 1990, Bowie said that the name Ziggy came from a tailor’s shop that he once passed on a train.

29. Guest artists on the album include Rick Wakeman and Dana Gillespie.

30. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in St Anne’s Court, Soho, London. The facility is still there but is now used for voiceover work.

31. The huge success of Ziggy Stardust led to Bowie’s previous album Hunky Dory and the single “Life On Mars?” becoming hits months after they were initially released.

32. Even though all of the songs on the album have become rock classics, only three singles were released; “Starman,” “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide,” and “Suffragette City,” the latter two did not appear until two years and four years after the album was released.

33. The jumpsuit Bowie is wearing on the cover was designed by his friend Freddie Burretti.

34. The guitar David is holding on the cover is a Gibson Les Paul and belonged to his Arnold Corns bandmate, Mark Carr Pritchett

35. “Starman” was the last song to be written for the album. It was recorded on February 4, 1972, along with “Suffragette City” and “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide.”

36. All of the songs on the album were played live many times during Bowie’s career. However, “It Ain’t Easy,” the Ron Davies cover version, was only performed once on BBC Radio 1 in Concert broadcast in June 1971.

37. “Lady Stardust” was initially titled “He Was Alright (A Song For Marc)” in tribute to Bowie’s friend Marc Bolan. It is the most popular Ziggy song in Japan and was released as a limited edition 7” picture disc there in 2017 to commemorate the Tokyo “David Bowie Is” exhibition.

38. The Chuck Berry cover version of “Round And Round” was replaced on the album at the last minute by “Starman.”

39. With its line “Hey man, Droogie don’t crash here,” “Suffragette City” references Clockwork Orange. The film adaptation was released in the U.K. on January 13, 1972, just three weeks before the song was recorded.

40. “Starman,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Moonage Daydream,” ‘Five Years,” “Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide,” “Suffragette City,” and “Lady Stardust” all got their world debuts during recordings made for Bob Harris and John Peel BBC Sessions in January and May 1972. These were released on Bowie At The Beeb in 2000.

41. Some of the artists that have cited the July 1972 Top Of The Pops performance of “Starman” as life-changing have included Robert Smith (The Cure), Bono (U2), Boy George, Mick Jones (The Clash), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Marc Riley (The Fall), Noel Gallagher, Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Adam Ant, Gary Numan, Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet), Elton John and Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)

42. The opening song on the album, “Five Years,” was rehearsed by Bowie and his band for Live Aid in 1985 but was dropped so that Canadian TV footage of the drought in Somalia could be broadcast instead.

43. Early versions of two songs from the album, “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On To Yourself,” were recorded by Arnold Corns, Bowie’s vehicle for his friend and designer Freddie Burretti.

44. “Suffragette City” was originally offered to Mott The Hoople. However, the band declined, so Bowie kept it for himself and later wrote “All The Young Dudes” for them.

45. Songs from the album have appeared in TV shows and movies such as Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Crown, The Walking Dead, The Martian, Life On Mars and many more.

46. The final Ziggy show in July 1973 was immortalized on film as Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by the documentarian D.A. Pennebaker. A cut-down version was shown on U.S. TV in 1974 but wasn’t released theatrically worldwide until 1983.

47. In 2017, a newly discovered extinct species of wasp was named Archaeoteleia astropulvis (astropulvis is Latin for ‘star dust’) in honor of the record.

48. Time, NME, Rolling Stone and more have all cited it as one of the greatest albums of all time.

49. Tracks from the album have been covered by artists such as Bauhaus, Duran Duran, Placebo, Arcade Fire, The Polyphonic Spree, Culture Club, Def Leppard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Seu Jorge, Portugal The Man and more.

50. Bowie killed off the Ziggy Stardust persona on July 3, 1973, at Hammersmith Odeon, London, with the words, “Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”