"A suitably chaotic time capsule of a magical period now bathed in extraordinary poignancy": David Bowie's Ziggy era mined for gold on Rock 'N' Roll Star

This mothership of David Bowie box sets covers Ziggy Stardust's conception, birth and lift-off

David Bowie: Rock ’N’ Roll Star cover art
(Image: © Parlophone)

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For punk-presaging impact and shapeshifting socio-cultural resonance, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars felt like the first truly significant rock album of the seismic 70s, precipitating David Bowie manifesting as the first modern superstar. 

It’s taken 52 years for the album to get its box set, and the glittering gold mine of previously unheard song doodles, demos and out-takes doesn’t disappoint. From February 1971’s hotel-room sketch So Long 60s prototyping Moonage Daydream, to Starman’s landmark Top Of The Pops performance 18 months later, this five-CD and Blu-ray disc set feels more like a heavyweight set of bonus tracks (29 previously unreleased) than the standard reissue plus out-takes. The album itself is only on Blu-ray, removing its climax for erm, older fans not familiar with that format. That triumph goes to Starman, complete with TOTP backing track.

David Bowie - Starman (Top Of The Pops, 1972) - YouTube David Bowie - Starman (Top Of The Pops, 1972) - YouTube
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The set’s fairly haphazard programming illustrates how Ziggy’s lift-off was not a clean trajectory, December 1971’s Hunky Dory almost getting in the way of the new monster unleashed live the following month, not selling immediately. Sleevenotes confirm the uproarious crowd reaction to Bowie’s debut at Friars Aylesbury club in September 1971, providing the confidence-boosting impetus to reinvent himself (as he told this writer after raising the club’s roof with Velvet Underground and Chuck Berry covers). Watching Bowie visibly transform from shy folkie into preening rock star suggests this landmark gig (a YouTube fave) would be more pertinent than CD4’s non-Ziggy tracks from October 1972’s Boston show. Four months later he unveiled Ziggy Stardust at the same venue. 

Bowie’s subsequent dilemma of riding two very different records is illustrated by radio broadcasts from the limbo months between revealing Ziggy and that album’s June ’72 release, all new material apart from Hunky Dory’s Queen Bitch.

David Bowie - Rock 'n' Roll Star! - Ken Scott on the journey to Ziggy Stardust - YouTube David Bowie - Rock 'n' Roll Star! - Ken Scott on the journey to Ziggy Stardust - YouTube
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As shown here, Ziggy Stardust’s final track-listing constantly evolved until replacing Around And Around with Starman added the vital hit single. Earlier inclusions pruned for falling outside the emerging concept include Velvet Goldmine, Sweet Head and haunting Shadow Man. Alternative versions include a deeper-voiced Lady Stardust (itself a Hunky Dory out-take). 

Ultimately still mesmerising, enhanced by photos and memorabilia-stacked book plus 36-page reproduction of Bowie’s notebooks, the box set provides a suitably chaotic time capsule of a magical period now bathed in extraordinary poignancy.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!