cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

“It’s an experimental record, in the sense that Bowie was trying out an unknown formula." - (uncut.co.uk) .. .. .. "The strength of Ziggy lies in its completeness." - (BBC Music 2002) .. .. .. "With Bowie there is the good and the "bad" but, there is never ever anything indifferent about him or his music" - (This review)

This is album retro-review number 168 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

I reached into my record crate for one of three albums I have by this man – and in doing so I pulled out one that could be easily considered as his greatest live album.

I am talking about David Bowie and the vinyl album I’m featuring is titled – Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture.

It was originally released on vinyl in 1983, on the Starcall label it has the identifying code of MAL2 003.

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

It is a double album in a gatefold cover with 15 tracks including a melody. Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture has been released on CD twice to date, the first being on 7 August 1992 by Rykodisc and the second in April 2003 by EMI/Virgin being the album’s 30th Anniversary 2CD Set.

The Starcall release was only released in Australia.

This album was actually recorded in July of 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon Theatre and for ten years it was only available as a bootleg recording.

Originally it was intended to have been released in February 1974 as a double LP (“Bowie-ing Out“) but the plan was abandoned. Then in 1983 RCA who had the contract to release Bowie’s music through an album, released what was in fact the very last performance by Bowie in his persona of Ziggy Stardust.

As most people know filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker focuses his lens on a 1973 concert by David Bowie, who was performing under the his most loved persona of Ziggy Stardust, with his glam-rock backing band, the Spiders From Mars.

Although the music could be heard by watching the film, stories have it that Bowie didn’t want the music released as an album because he wanted to discard the glam rock image and was concerned the album’s release would delay that decision.

Others tell that he wasn’t happy with the quality of the music and apparently didn’t get on very well with Tony Visconti – the producer, and that they were both at odds during the whole mixing session.

With his passing, the story of David Bowie is being told in great detail in so many places, so I think I’ll focus on this album and leave the full story for others.

Suffice to say that Bowie was born in 1947 and was born David Robert Jones and he began playing the saxophone at age 13. He was greatly influenced by his half-brother Terry, who was nine years older and exposed young David to the worlds of rock music and beat literature.

In the late 1960’s, somewhat out of fear of being confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees, David changed his last name to Bowie, a name that was inspired by the knife developed by the 19th century American pioneer Jim Bowie.

His first hit was the song Space Oddity in 1969. The original pop chameleon, Bowie became a fantastical sci-fi character for his breakout Ziggy Stardust album and so a most loved and most “disturbing” character was born.

His image of confused/chaotic/para-sexuality set the media on fire and the fans responded with love and passion, with “Ziggy Troops” forming worldwide.

David Bowie released 26 studio albums between 1967 and 2016 – with his last album, Blackstar, being only released on January 8th.

He also released nine live albums between 1974 and 2010, with this album being the 3rd in that list. All in all there is also a staggering 49 compilation albums.

His influence on music across the decades cannot be overstated.

He drove music into places and spaces it never conceived and indeed, one of his big strengths apart from his music, was his ability to change, too literally become a chameleon and to not just adapt to changing times, but to drive those changes.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
[CLICK to emlarge]

 

So it seems he wasn’t initially happy with the music on this album (if the stories can be believed). Personally I believe it was more his desire, an imperative almost, for him to change and drop the much loved Iggy Stardust that drove the desire to not release the music.

In fact toward the end of the album, just prior to the track Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide, he announced to the audience – “Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”

It wasn’t a message that the music was over, it was a message that he was again changing, Ziggy was just another chrysalis.

If you try and describe the album apart from the tracks specifically, many words come to mind. Words like part sci fi; partly the story of a group of people in society who are not considered to behave according to the moral or social standards; a narrative form, which unfolds via the sophisticated use of shifting perspectives and, glam rock in space – all these come to mind!

So here we are, some 47 years after that final concert with this recording, recalling and replaying that music.

Track Listing:

Side A
1. Hang On to Yourself
2. Ziggy Stardust
3. Watch That Man
4. Medley:
a. Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud
b. All the Young Dudes
c. Oh! You Pretty Things

Side B
1. Moonage Daydream
2. Space Oddity
3. My Death

Side C.
1. Cracked Actor
2. Time
3. Width of a Circle

Side D
1. Changes
2. Let’s Spend the Night Together
3. Suffragette City
4. White light/White Heat
5. Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Rear Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Artists

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Inside gatefold – [CLICK to enlarge]


Track 1 is Hang Onto Yourself.

This is not a memorable track as far as Bowie tracks go, but a ripper to kick a show off with. Highly energetic Mick Ronson bends his guitar around the universe like a man possessed.

Track 2 is Ziggy Stardust.

It’s one of those Bowie tracks that will remain indelibly printed in our musical psyche. Kicking off with one of the memorable riffs of all time, Bowie as Ziggy, tells the story of Ziggy Stardust and his band – The Spiders From Mars.

His image defied that which parents had just come to accept as being “the” image of pop stars from the 60’s – in fact he defied many things with his gender twisting, off-the-planet image.

All this image would have made a minor star of any artist, but when the words came out of Bowie’s mouth, he became Ziggy Stardust, and the “Spiders From Mars” provided the music that both pushed Ziggy, and reflected Ziggy’s journey.

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Bowie and Ronson – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Early punk on one hand, but with the skill of Mick Ronson on guitar, this group would always be steps ahead on the ladder of almost any punk style band.

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Wierd and Gilly,
And The Spiders from Mars.
He played it left hand, but made it too far,
Became the special man,
Then we were Ziggy’s Band.

Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan, he could lick ’em by smiling
He could leave ’em to hang
Here came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.

So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just the beer light to guide us.
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?

Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were Voodoo
The kids was just crass,
He was the naz
With God given ass
He took it all too far
But boy could he play guitar.

Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band


Ziggy played guitar

It is somewhat ironic that the first and last words are – “Ziggy played guitar” – for while Ronson takes the lead part of playing guitar, the theme of the track was actually composed by Bowie on guitar and as Ziggy, he had the first and last word.

“Weird and Gilly” were Bowie’s sometimes-nicknames for Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey at the height of their powers.

There are some Bowie tracks that always remain in our heads, ready to pull out when needed, and Ziggy Stardust is one of those tracks.

Ziggy Stardust

Track 3 is Watch That Man which appeared on the Aladdin Sane album.

It has often been likened to the Rolling Stones style of playing at that time, maybe it is? But one thing is for certain, it has a kick-arse solo!

Track 4 is in itself a compilation of three tracks – and that makes it a great track to look a bit deeper at.

The first track in the medley is Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud which is a track Bowie put on the B-side of the single Space Oddity.

Fans of Bowie played it but the general public rarely heard it because of the popularity of the A-side.

In the book “We Could Be Heroes” by Chris Welch, Bowie is quoted as saying about this track, “It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they’re left outside, which was how I felt about me. I always felt I was on the edge of events, the fringe of things, and left out.

A lot of my characters in those early years seem to revolve around that feeling. It must have come from my own interior puzzlement at where I was.”

A great choice to start the medley, it is a very reflective, moody track that allows us to pause from the intensity of previous tracks.

Mike Garson on piano and the woodwind playing are very tasteful and demonstrate that other element of Bowie’s music – taste!

 

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Bowie with the Spiders from mars – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Then as the track seems to be fading away, the tempo subtly changes and the track morphs into All the Young Dudes.

Written by Bowie, he literally gave it away to Mott the Hoople who had initially rejected the track, but did record it and had it as a massive hit.

I just love the way Bowie (sorry Ziggy) takes this track into the final track of the medley – Oh! You Pretty Things.

By now we have totally moved away from introspection and mood, into a lively uptempo piece of music, originally on the 1971 Hunky Dory album. It is certainly a great example of Bowie stripping his composition back to basics with minimal instrumental backing.

It has been written about as a piece that is meant to prepare us for “…. the impending obsolescence of the human race in favour of an alliance between arriving aliens and the youth of the present society”

Medley (Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud; All the Young Dudes; Oh! You Pretty Things)

Turn the album over to Side 2 and we are hit with a full on, grande musical odyssey, almost a mini electro-space opera called Moonage Daydream.

With Ronson being given his head to create a frantic, yet brilliant lead solo that swirls, screams across the speaker field in a climactic orgy of passion and a frenzy, it must have set Ziggy off into the far reaches of the galaxy – it is hard not to be taken by this track, and live it must have been absolutely spectacular.

The vocals rise and fall, as the band loses any semblance of conservatism in what is nothing less than an orgy of sound.

Yet, it is never so out of control that even as Ziggy indicates this part of the trip is over, the band is able to bring it down, to “ground” us once again, in a controlled and skilful manner – with a guitar driven conclusion.

Forget the lyrics, this is about the Spiders from Mars and their music!

Moonage Daydream

Even as the last notes of the previous track fade away, and we are left somewhat beautifully shellshocked (or is it starstruck?), those familiar pulses that herald Space Oddity intrude into our space.

We gleefully recognise them, this recognition is reinforced with the gentle introductory chords and we know that we are in for another journey. Incidentally, unlike the journey the previous track induced, this journey is quite different, yet, it has every part as much passion – just different!

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Major Tom – [CLICK to enlarge]
We are all aware of the story of Major Tom and this track is most likely to be the one track that most of us will recall first when there is any discussion on Bowie.

It can be debated whether it is in fact his best work, but there is no doubt that it is easily his most recognisable.

Interestingly, despite its worldwide popularity it only reached the number 1 position as a single in the UK. The main character – Major Tom, was obviously a favourite of Bowie as he resurrected the Major Tom character in the songs “Ashes to Ashes“, “Hallo Spaceboy and “Blackstar.

Even though it is so well known, it is worth revisiting here as it is a splendid demonstration of Bowie and indeed his bands, ability to take a studio track and transfer it to the stage with credit.

It is actually quite hard to re-listen to in light of Bowie’s passing without pausing to reflect on his career in general, and this track specifically – as to me it really sums up David Bowie.

Yes I know that you know, and I have acknowledged that Bowie had many persona’s over the years – but this “form” and this track is just so David Bowie.

Space Oddity

The third and final track is My Death.

There is almost no pause between tracks, we barely have time to shake Major Tom out of our mind when Ziggy hits us with a track that takes on a whole new meaning with David Bowie’s passing.

An uptempo ballad, it again demonstrates Bowie’s ability to tell a tale of reflection that we, as the audience, cannot fail to take into our hearts and rewrite with our own experiences.

This brings us to the second LP, and side 1 which kicks off with Cracked Actor.

Another track that appears on the Aladdin Sane album. Here Ziggy kicks off with what is without doubt the best “rockin'” track on the album.

The story of what happens too many ageing rockers (read musicians) can be found in this track.

I’ve come on a few years from my Hollywood highs
The best of the last, the cleanest star they ever had
I’m stiff on my legend, the films that I made
Forget that I’m fifty ’cause you just got paid

Crack, baby, crack, show me you’re real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel?
Suck, baby, suck, give me your head
Before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead

Oh stay
Please stay
Please stay

You caught yourself a trick down on Sunset and Vine
But since he pinned you baby you’re a porcupine
You sold me illusions for a sack full of cheques
You’ve made a bad connection ’cause I just want your sex

Crack, baby, crack, show me you’re real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel?
Suck, baby, suck, give me your head
Before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead

Oh yeah
Ooh stay, for a day
Oh yeah
Don’t you dare
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Hoo
Hoo
Oh yeah


There is nothing subtle about the references to drugs and sex.

At times both were most certainly part of the staple diet of Bowie, and in this track Ziggy is reflecting on the downward path many of his contemporaries have found themselves on.

In regard to the music – well it is a track which would/should have most people up and dancing. It is interesting however, that the audience reaction is less enthusiastic as on many other tracks.

Cracked Actor

Time is good track, but not a great track!

The track was written in the USA while Ziggy was doing his tour in 1972 and was the opening track on the Aladdin Sane album. It has a British Music Hall feel about it at times.

Keyboardist Mike Garson said that he employed “… the old stride piano style from the 20s and I mixed it up with avant-garde jazz styles plus it had the element of show music, plus it was very European.”

This side of the album finishes with Width of a Circle.

This is the longest track on the album at little over 9:30minutes. In many ways it is a track of two-parts.

In part 1 we rock while in part two, Ziggy becomes narrative again and, although while the tempo drops, it never really slows as we are regaled with tales of the devil and other creepy things.

It could easily have become a noodling track in some ways, it has a “Black Sabbath” type riff underpinning it, but Ziggy never allows noodling on any of his tracks!

The final side begins with another Bowie classic – Changes!

This is certainly another favourite of Bowie fans and music fans in general. Released as a single in 1972, it really didn’t capture the market’s interest, but over the years has become a perennial favourite.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through

Such a track of self-analysis where Bowie cautions us that changes are inevitable, and no matter how much the world tells them to stay the same; changes will take place.

As for him, he says, “Strange fascination, fascinating me, changes are taking the pace I’m going through“. How appropriate in reflection of this, his last concert as Ziggy!

I absolutely love the sax playing of Ken Fordham that sees this track move into the next.

Changes

Just why Bowie made Let’s Spend The Night Together part of his repertoire must have a story behind it, but aren’t we glad he did.

The track will always be associated with the Stones but Bowie puts his own edge on this great track.

It just demands to be played at a decent tempo, however Bowie’s up’s the ante on this and kicks into a higher gear until we get toward the end.

Here not only does the band reinforce that they have put their own stamp on this track, but Bowie drops the pace and adds his own words – and you know what? Not only does it work, it works brilliantly!

They said we were too young
Our kind of love was no fun
But our love comes from above
Let’s make… love

Track 3 is Suffragette City.

The tempo doesn’t drop one iota! It was released as a single and failed to chart, and to be honest it isn’t anywhere near my favourite track on the album.

Sure it has good pulse and strong drive, and I’m certain to upset some Bowie fans – but I think it was added to the show to give the audience a “good-time” track – that’s all I’ll say except to make a passing reference to Bowie, making a reference to the cult movie Clockwork Orange and, the “Droogs”.

Hey man, Henry, don’t be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can’t take you this time, no way
Hey man, droogie don’t crash here
There’s only room for one and here she comes
Here she comes

The penultimate track is track 4White Light/White Heat.

It was originally recorded by his friend Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

Although a staple of the Ziggy Stardust tour the track never appeared on an album until this album was recorded. Bowie continued to put it into his live repertoire even after discarding the Ziggy persona.

It’s a frantic version of the track, and it’s a good track but not outstanding. One suspects it was a track that was meant to be listened to and heard live.

This brings us to the final Ziggy Stardust track – Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.

Thus the show not only came to an end, the tour not only came to an end, but so did Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
Ziggy and The Spiders From Mars – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

There is nothing accidental about this being the final track! Bowie never did anything accidentally. He was a consummate performer and knew how to respond appropriately to each moment.

This is a fine choice for his climactic end to Ziggy. The musicians behind him sensing the importance of the moment are brilliant.

The album has been criticised for not really capturing the “moments” – I disagree and when it comes to this track, if the hair on the nape of your neck doesn’t rise, either you are dead, or your have never responded to any live rock concert!

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Oh oh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind
You’re so natural – religiously unkind

[Chorus]
Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up
But if I could only make you care

Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands

It would be over 25 years before Bowie sung this track again.

It is is an absolutely brilliant track in both lyric development and the music that forms an integral bond with the track.

It is a fitting swan-song for Ziggy Stardust and just one word remains – Brilliant!

 

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

Of all of the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest because not only is it — not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.”

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide

With the type of musical legacy David Bowie left us, and with the number of video clips available, we will always be able to indulge ourselves both in the life, times and music of Ziggy Stardust.

To try and do justice to the man in one short album review is to do him a major injustice!

David Bowie was not just a singer, a musician, a composer and a showman – he was all of these beautifully combined, but he was also a dreamer!

Yet the more we reflect upon him the more we start to unravel the many layers of David Bowie, for he was also pretty and most certainly he was witty.

He drove himself as only a person can who is so totally possessed by exploration!

Exploration of himself and his personas, of music, of what could be, what will be, what is and what was. He was also interested in the exploration of others and what drove us as humans to do what we do while constantly seeking changes that drives us as a race to great things and terrible things.

Like an onion, no matter how many layers we peel back, there are more.

So it is I cannot claim Ziggy Stardust (The Movie) is his “best” album, nor will I make any declarations as to what that almost mythical album is!

cream of the crate: album review # 168 – david bowie: ziggy stardust [the motion picture]
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

Each album, for better or worse, reveals something of David Bowie, who in so many ways is simply reflecting ourselves back to us!

There are some albums of fantastic quality, while others are just OK – but with Bowie there is the good and the “bad” but, there is never ever anything indifferent about him or his music.

You chose your favourite album – but as the years move on, all David Bowie albums will rightly find their own levels on the scales each of us develop.

This album is available still on vinyl, although the CD release does have bonus tracks and is claimed to be a better mix.

Vale David Bowie – you have truly returned to that which is your real form: real stardust: and thank you for sharing with us that wonderful persona of Ziggy Stardust!



VIDEOS:

As this album is the music from the show captured on film, you will find clips of the music I have discussed.

I have provided some clips to show Ziggy in all his glory!

 

Ziggy Stardust

 

Watch That Man

 

My Death

 

Time

 

Lets Spend The Night Together

 

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.

#151.  The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

#152.  The Animals – The Animals

#153. Omah Khorshid & His Group  – Live In Australia 1981

#154. Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe

#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier

#156. Aretha Franklin – The Best Of

#157. Big Bill Broonzy – Big Bill’s Blues

#158. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go 

#159. The Band – Stage Fright

#160. Ray Brown and the Whispers – Hits and More 1965 – 1968

#161. Guitar Junior – The Crawl

#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One

#163. Memphis Minnie – Queen of the Blues

#164. Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)

#165. The Loved Ones – Magic Box

#166. Various Artists – On The Road Again [ An Anthology of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954]

#167. Janis Joplin – Greatest Hits