David Bowie: The Glam Rock Years
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
When David Bowie dyed his hair orange and donned a revealing bodystocking, many commentators accused him of compromising rock music with showbiz, while manipulating the process of image and stardom. No doubt. This was Bowie the actor, starring as Ziggy Stardust on the stage of British glam rock.
Eschewing the fading seriousness of the hippie subculture, along with its fading denim jeans, Bowie created his most memorable character in 1972. Ziggy Stardust exploded onto the music scene, alongside contemporaries Marc Bolan, Elton John and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music.
Glam rock was effectively in its infancy, but Bowie soon had it entering puberty with the release of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, along with the single Starman.
Over the next two years, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust pantomime would create a breath of fresh air, essentially ridiculing the pretensions of those who fell into the camp of the progressive rocker. Perhaps camp is the operative word here, as Bowie's outrageous lurex clothing and orange hair became the leading trademark of glam rock in the UK.
There is no denying, however, that many of the tracks produced by David Bowie during this era have become classics of rock, no matter how you wish to describe it.
Image: David Bowie
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1972: Changes - From Hunky Dory
Released in early 1972 from the album Hunky Dory, Changes essentially became the song that introduced the chameleon-like public persona of David Bowie. Soon after, he would shed his skin and appear as the character Ziggy Stardust.
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
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1972: Starman - From: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Starman was David Bowie's first British hit single since the song Space Oddity had appeared three years earlier. Appearances on popular music shows of the time propelled the song into the UK Top 10 and ensured that the image of Ziggy Stardust would be forever etched into the minds of the public.
1972: John, I'm Only Dancing
Released in the Autumn of 1972, John, I'm Only Dancing never appeared on an original album by Bowie. The subject matter of the track has often been the subject of debate.
Listening to the lyrics, is this a gay taunt or simply the reassurances of a straight man? Whatever the discussion, the song followed Starman into the UK Top 20, while conservative America bypassed the release of the track, judging it to be too lurid.
1973: The Jean Genie - From: Aladdin Sane
A song that could easily be described as one of David Bowie's signature tunes, it became his biggest hit when it reached Number 2 in the UK music charts of 1973.
Oddly, it was competing with another glam rock track, Blockbuster! by The Sweet for the Number 1 position, a song that was using a very similar riff to The Jean Genie. On this occasion The Sweet won the battle.
1973: Drive-In Saturday - From: Aladdin Sane
One of the best tracks from Bowie's Aladdin Sane is often considered as one of his lost hits. It peaked at Number 3 in the UK music charts and tells the story of a future post apocalyptic world.
Having already recorded Bowie's All the Young Dudes, the track was offered to Mott the Hoople, but lead singer Ian Hunter inexplicably turned it down. Fortunately, Bowie went on to record it himself.
David Bowie: Aladdin Sane
Containing some of Bowie's best material, what rock fan could resist A Lad Insane, or should that read Aladdin Sane? As well as including Drive-In Saturday and The Jean Genie, the album sports a cover of The Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together. Described as explosive rock, this is a recording that every Bowie fan should have in their collection.
1973: Life On Mars? - From: Hunky Dory
Although Life On Mars? was included on the album Hunky Dory, it wouldn't be until June 1973 that it would be released as a single. Possibly one of Bowie's strangest lyrics, the track soon found itself a Top 3 hit in the Summer of 1973.
1973: Sorrow - From: Pin Ups
Sorrow is a cover of the mid-Sixties song originally recorded successfully by The Merseys in the UK. It was lifted from Bowie's album Pin Ups, which included twelve tracks that are favorites of Bowie from that period.
David Bowie: Pin Ups
A recording containing tracks which are nostalgic covers of many of David Bowie's favorite songs from the 1960s, it includes his hit version of Sorrow, as well as eleven others such as Pink Floyd's See Emily Play, The Who's I Can't Explain, The Yardbirds Shape of Things and Them's Here Come the Night, plus many more.
1974: Rebel Rebel - From: Diamond Dogs
Rebel, Rebel was essentially David Bowie's last glam rock style single before he moved on to dabbling in soul and funk and taking on the Thin White Duke persona.
As with most of Bowie's output at this time, the gender bending lyrics fit in well with the Ziggy Stardust character, as well as the camp nature of the music genre as a whole.
For proof of what got "mother in a whirl", check out the lyrics to Rebel, Rebel.
1974: Diamond Dogs - From: Diamond Dogs
Bowie's last gasp glam rock single, the sound of which was heading closer to what would be happening on the UK music scene within a couple of years: Punk Rock.
The title track from his latest album, it proved to be one of his least successful singles of this period, stalling at Number 21 on the UK music charts.
David Bowie: Diamond Dogs
Bowie's final foray into glam rock was this 1984-inspired release called Diamond Dogs. It includes his most popular single to date Rebel Rebel as well as the hit title track. The second half, in particular, is Bowie's music and songs that were to be used for a theatre production that never came to fruition.
Which of Bowie's glam rock songs here is your favorite?
About This Bowie Fan
With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.
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© 2012 Richard