When David Bowie appeared on the UK’s Top of the Pops singing ‘Starman’ as Ziggy Stardust on July 5th 1972 a strange androgynous alien visitation was beamed to 15 million viewers across the nation.
He was shocking, bizarre, beautiful and talented and within days Bowie mania swept the country.
Too many it seemed that he had appeared from nowhere, but Bowie had spent the previous ten years in a long, varied and difficult artistic gestation.
From his early teens to that career defining moment he’d tried almost anything, from R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll bands, to mime theatre, acting, television commercials and a folk trio called Feathers.
He even had a go at a children’s novelty record, The Laughing Gnome.
Check it out:
In 1969 Bowie timed the release of his single ‘Space Oddity’ with the luna landings and had a hit. But with remnants of his aforementioned folk incarnation on the rest of the album, his image was confused and he seemed destined to be a one hit wonder.
It wasn’t till Bowie met pop music manager Tony Defries, who launched the careers of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, that things changed.
Tony, you see, had money, and, perhaps more importantly, Tony had a plan.
He introduced Bowie to the New York underground theatre and music scene, which in the early 70’s was as weird and wacky as it gets. There he met Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and became fascinated with the avant-garde.
The brilliant Hunky Dory was released soon after, but the record didn’t sell.
Bowie, it seems, needed more than just good music. He needed a fully formed persona, an otherworldly character, to fully engage the imagination of his audience – to become, perhaps, some kind of identity defining cultural phenomenon that all the kids could attach themselves to.
He needed Ziggy Stardust.
So wanna-be rock stars take note: despite David Bowie’s undeniable talent, it took Ziggy Stardust, an alien who had assumed human form as a rock star, appearing on the Top of the Pops to shoot him out of stratosphere and make him the Starman we love.
So there is certainly something to be said for musical theatrics.
That said, seeing it now, it seems pretty tame (especially with the daggy kids dancing around the stage). But remember, this was 1972:
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