In David Bowie”s expansive career, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” stands as the groundbreaking album that blew out minds, that made the English rocker become the special man, the concept album that gave us the captivating narrative of Bowie”s alien rock god persona – a spaceman who descends onto Earth to save it but discovers rock and roll instead.
Bowie, who died at age 69 on Sunday, reinvented himself time and again, and he toured as Ziggy Stardust for a relatively short period: from February 1972, when he debuted the character in small London pub Toby Jug, to July 1973, when he retired the character at a sold-out concert at London”s Hammersmith Odeon Theatre. Even though the flamboyant, androgynous starman rocked Earth”s concert halls for only 18 months, the persona has become forever intwined with Bowie himself.
The immortality of Ziggy and the iconic status Bowie”s career would soon reach was not what some critics predicted in 1972. Some reviewers – including Rolling Stone”s Richard Cromelin – feared Bowie”s stardom would fade as soon as trendy glam rock went out of fashion. Even in a 1974 concert review, a Boston Globe critic wrote that Bowie”s “slickness indicates too basic a superficiality for his influence to last.”
But the critic for Circus (an American monthly rock music magazine that was published until 2006) sensed the album”s destiny for timelessness in a July 1972 review: “Not your everyday sort of album, but an album for every day – at least until the End.”
Indeed, “Ziggy Stardust” remains a brightly burning star, and Rolling Stone declared its solid footing in pop culture with its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: the album ranks at #35.
Below, read some of what critics said in 1972 reactions to the Earthly debut of Ziggy Stardust – the album, the concerts, the persona.
Rolling Stone”s review of the album:
“Upon the release of David Bowie”s most thematically ambitious, musically coherent album to date, the record in which he unites the major strengths of his previous work and comfortably reconciles himself to some apparently inevitable problems, we should all say a brief prayer that his fortunes are not made to rise and fall with the fate of the ‘drag-rock” syndrome – that thing that”s manifesting itself in the self-conscious quest for decadence which is all the rage at the moment in trendy Hollywood…. Side two is the soul of the album, a kind of psychological equivalent of ‘Lola vs. Powerman” that delves deep into a matter close to David”s heart: What”s it all about to be a rock & roll star?”
New Musical Express”s review of the album:
“With most of his material either dealing with the flashier style of city living or looking far into the future, Bowie must rate as our most futuristic songwriter. Sometimes what he sees is just a little scary, and perhaps there's a bit more pessimism here than on previous releases, but they're still fine songs.”
Circus magazine”s review of the album:
“From start to finish this is an LP of dazzling intensity and mad design. Bowie is achieving with words the sort of effect which groups like Pink Floyd are attempting with instruments and volume. At times one is almost mesmerizes by the tumble of images and the sheer force of Bowie's performance. A stunning work of genius. Not your everyday sort of album, but an album for every day – at least until the End.”
Oz Magazine”s reaction to the album and the persona:
“[The ‘Ziggy Stardust” album] personifies Bowie's new image as the intended messiah of Teenage Wasteland. Live, he is an almost grotesque parody of early Elvis Presley complete with outrageously tasteless costume, butch hairstyle and calculated effeminate gestures…. ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is the vital link around which Bowie's new image is to be projected, and I have a feeling it will, if only temporarily, succeed. It's all a little unfortunate, though, that someone as capable as David Bowie should attempt to hype himself as something he isn”t.”
Melody Maker”s reaction to the album and the persona:
“Style and content have now become inextricably tangled in Bowie's case. Campness has become built-in to his public persona. I mean that, however, in a far from derogatory sense. The main preoccupation of David's work is not directly gay sexuality, though that element is there, as with a flourishing theatricality and dramatic sense…. There is no well-defined story line [on the album], as there is in “Tommy” say, but there are odd songs and references to the business of being a pop star that overall add up to a strong sense of biographical drama.”
Los Angeles Times rock music critic Robert Hilburn”s review of Bowie”s October 1972 concert in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium:
“He is a certified, genuine, guaranteed, blue-ribbon star…. Bowie, with a background in mime, has enormous stage control and is able to accomplish more with the mere movement of his eyes than most performers in rock can do with a whole series of exaggerated movements. His body is so disciplined that Bowie can create the tension of a wild animal, a tiger or panther, as he prowls the stage, controlling the pace and direction of the show as he moves.”
New York Times critic Don Heckman”s review of Bowie”s September 1972 concert at Carnegie Hall:
“Advance stories about Bowie had most of us expecting a performance that would be little more than a transvestic fashion show with musical accompaniment. But despite Bowie”s obvious interest in unusual costuming, make-up and dyed hair, he is a solidly competent stage performer who brings a strong sense of professionalism to every move he makes…. As performer, Bowie delivered. He understands that theatricality has more to do with presence than with gimmickry, and that beautifully coordinated physical movements and well-planned music can reach an audience a lot quicker than aimless prancing and high-decibel electronics.”