Because David Bowie unveiled Ziggy Stardust fully formed, it is tempting to think he burst from his head of tawny tousled locks with a pair of scissors in one hand and a bottle of Red Hot Red hair-dye in the other.
Yet Ziggy was more than a haircut, makeup and clothes; more than songs or the way they were laid out on an album. The truth is, like any great idea, Ziggy might have come from a blinding flash of genius but it took time for him to grow up into something that shook the world and turned every single thing we thought on its head.
So let’s see if it’s possible to track Ziggy from conception to his birth, heralded by that slow jazz waltz snare and those fateful words… ‘Pushing through the market square…’
The Velvet Underground is often cited as an influence. It’s true, David heard a pre-release copy of the Velvet’s debut album in manager Ken Pitt’s flat in 1966. He even recorded ‘Waiting for the Man’ in 1967 with Riot Squad.
Yet merely weeks later he was recording a polar opposite debut album of songs like ‘Love you ‘til Tuesday, ‘Rubber Band’, ‘Uncle Arthur’ and ‘She’s got Medals’. Neither are the Velvets much in evidence in his 2nd album; a folk-rock rhapsody.
In the United States, while promoting The Man Who Sold the World, David saw the Velvet Underground perform. Lou Reed had left the band, but his replacement Doug Yule sang Lou’s songs with the same deadpan voice and looked so similar some claim Lou’s departure went unnoticed.
During a radio interview, David discovered ‘I wanna be your Dog’ by the proto-punk Stooges. It is said he took the name Ziggy from Iggy Pop, but he claimed it came from a tailor’s shop he passed on a train. Whatever, this time the influences stuck. Soon as he got home he wrote early versions of Hang On to Yourself and Moonage Daydream. ‘Lay your lectric eye on me babe’ is a tribute to the Stooges song ‘TV Eye’.
If Ziggy was Iggy, then it is generally agreed Stardust came from the ‘Legendary Stardust Cowboy’, David’s contemporary and fellow Mercury artist, whose 1968 psycho-billy single ‘Paralysed’ caused quite a stir. Before meeting David, Ronno, Woody and Trevor Boulder, as the Rats, had composed a 4 minute opera ‘The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripplestone’.
When The Man Who Sold the World failed to deliver some long overdue success, David blamed his manager and record company. His new manager, Tony De Fries, told David to wait while he negotiated his exit from Mercury Records and hooked RCA – who famously only had Elvis: ‘and he wouldn’t last forever!’
While waiting, David learned piano, writing Changes; Oh, You Pretty Things; Life on Mars; Lady Stardust and Star. De Fries sold him to RCA on the basis of a 6 track demo tape featuring those songs; reaping an incredible advance for the next 3 albums.
Queen Bitch, a Velvet Underground tribute more suited to Ziggy, is the one surprise on Hunky Dory. On Ziggy, it could have easily replaced It Ain’t Easy (recorded for Hunky Dory but dropped). Perhaps David included Queen Bitch as taste of things to come.
Hunky Dory was finished by April 71, but not released until December because of contract problems. By August 71 David was already recording Ziggy Stardust. He told his co-producer Ken Scott: It’s different to anything I’ve done before… much heavier and stranger.
The album was tentatively called ‘Around and Around’ after a Chuck Berry song David played live. He intended it to be a filler album while he put together Ziggy Stardust as a West End stage show. No doubt due to work pressure, it wasn’t long before both ideas merged and the album became The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
By December, when Hunky Dory was released, Ziggy was mostly in place. The tracks included Velvet Goldmine and Holy, Holy; along with Chuck Berry’s Round and Round and Jacque Brel’s Port of Amsterdam. These were replaced with new songs Rock n Roll Suicide, Suffragette City, and Hunky Dory’s It Ain’t Easy.
When RCA demanded a strong commercial single David obliged with Starman. Its octave vocal leap on the word star-man echoed some-where in the Rainbow song from the Wizard of Oz, while the machinegun guitar break referenced Glenn Campbell’s Wichita Lineman.
A few weeks after David turned 25 (8 January 1972) Ziggy was complete. (But had to wait until June for release.) Towards the end of the month, on a cold wet January night, photographer Brian Ward took David to Heddon Street to photograph the album cover. Ward took 17 Black & White photographs (available at http://www.5years.com/opgall.htm) and hand-coloured some half-dozen including the front and back cover.
The photographs show David already had shorn off his locks; a brave move considering everyone had long hair. Many stories surround the Ziggy cut. The truth is the hairstyle evolved. The album photos and his appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in February show a blond crop, rather like Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby.
It was not until a few months later, when it started growing out, Angie call in her hairdresser Suzi Fussey (later Mrs Mick Ronson). During two days of trial and error they concocted a cockade from pictures in women’s magazine. Dyed red hot red it was feathered, backcombed and lacquered to death.
David took the band to see ‘A Clockwork Orange’. He liked the film’s futuristic feel but didn’t want to be tarred with its disturbing ultra-violence. Neither did he intend to copy friend and rival Marc Bolan’s glitter drenched silver lame look. Having worn a dress a few years before, David had no need to prove his credentials.
In tune with Ziggy’s alien nature, he chose the type of jumpsuits astronauts or visiting spaceman might wear, finished with knee length laced up red plastic boxer boots: space age versions of skinhead bovver boots. An Angie tells it, she and Freddie Buretti (a talented designer who cheekily described himself as a ‘seamstress’ on his arrest report for importuning a policeman in a public toilet) went up the Portobello Road Market to buy jazzy materials.
By February 1972 Ziggy’s first look was complete, the songs and chorography were rehearsed, and the lightshow in place. Only one more thing was needed. Before the first concert Woody painted ‘The Spiders’ on his bass drum.
And the rest, as they say, is legend.