Historical events tend to become more apparent as the context develops. This is certainly true in music. While some movements are obviously earth-shattering at the moment – to name a few, Beatlemania, punk and the rise of Nirvana – it takes a while for their true impact to sink in. For example, it was easy to see that Nirvana would become the kind of rock band that defined a generation — but who could have predicted the resurgence of the band’s brooding album Something In the Way in 2022 thanks to The Batman movie ?
In the summer of 1972, these glamorous innovators launched rock ‘n’ roll on a cosmic trajectory from which it is still in orbit.
Significant days are also largely known in hindsight. Take June 16, 1972, which is widely credited as the release date of two of the most important albums of all time: Roxy Music’s self-titled debut and David Bowie’s The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The coincidence is intriguing – and depending on the source, this date may very well be too good to be true – although there’s no question: In the summer of 1972, these glamorous innovators set rock ‘n’ roll on a cosmic trajectory from which it is still in orbit.
Roxy Music had only been a band a little over a year when they recorded their debut with Peter Sinfield, lyricist and co-founder of King Crimson. “Re-Make/Re-Model” set the tone for both the album and Roxy Music’s career. The song opens with crowd roar that sounds like hopping happy hour before Bryan Ferry’s jubilant piano heralds musical delights: Andy Mackay’s whirling tenor sax, Phil Manzanera’s searing electric guitar, Brian Eno’s synth scribbles. The song suggests they missed their chance with a mysterious “she” that could be interpreted as a woman – but could also represent the way Roxy embraced the future: “Looking back, I just looked the other way / Next thing.” Times is the best time for us everyone knows”
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That doesn’t mean that “Roxy Music” reinvents the wheel musically; In contrast, the band took existing styles of music and filtered them through an experimental, fresh lens. That’s certainly due in large part to Eno, a mad synthesizer scientist who loved to process and manipulate familiar sounds and elicit otherworldly sounds from cutting-edge synthesizers. But other songs had obvious precedents: “If There Is Something” boasts a slightly buzzy intro; “Would you believe?” both revamp ’50s rock and find Ferry vamping like his beloved Motown and soul idols; and Humphrey Bogart’s homage “2 HB” lends a celebratory glow to psychedelic ambience.
Phil Manzanera, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay (seated) Brian Eno, Rik Kenton and Paul Thompson (seated) of Roxy Music posed for a group photograph on 5 July 1972 at the Royal College of Art’s video studio in London (Brian Cooke/Redferns/Getty Images)
[Roxy Music] took existing styles of music and filtered them through an experimental, fresh lens.
Lyrically, too, Ferry explores a timeless trope – love – although his settings offer a more complex view of pursuit and attraction. “Ladytron” features a louche man who loves (and leaves) a woman, while other songs come together to paint the picture of a hopeless romantic aching regret and yearning for better days in the relationship, although that’s not always feasible is. But buoyed by the knowledge that fairy tale endings don’t exist, the characters in “Roxy Music” exude a more vulnerable kind of masculinity: “But even angels there make the same mistakes in love/In love, in love.”
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If “Roxy Music” felt like a beginning, “The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” was meant to be the end. That’s understandable: It was, in fact, Bowie’s fifth LP, and he’d already cycled through his folk, psych-rock, and proto-glam guises before landing on his Ziggy persona. As with “Roxy Music,” there were some obvious nods to the past (bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, Beatles-esque “It Ain’t Easy,” celebratory soft rock), though those influences felt more modern. Bowie and his band cannibalized themselves – looking back, it feels like a natural sonic progression from 1971’s “Hunky Dory” – and current trends, like the proto-punk of the Stooges, for inspiration. Mick Ronson’s swaggering electric guitar, introspective piano and string arrangements possess a clarity of execution and intent that is surpassed by the swinging rhythm section of bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey.
The thematic arc of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, that of a flamboyant rock star navigating the minefields of fame and his own bad behavior, explored a darker side of romance: a game of intoxicating self-sabotage and the seduction in the limelight. Bowie embodied this persona with his whole self, using his malleable vocal approach to convey a range of emotions: the wildly melodramatic chanteuse of “Ziggy Stardust”, the demure crooner of “Starman”, the searing rock god of “Suffragette City” and the Desperate His longing idol in the midst of free fall in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”.
The thematic arc of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars… explored a darker side of romance: a game of intoxicating self-sabotage and the seduction of the limelight.
In the UK, “Roxy Music” reached number 10 on the charts. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, meanwhile, also did well, crashing the UK chart at number 15 for the period 25 June to 1 July, its highest-charting debut this week and eventually reach 5th place.
Both bands also had high-profile Top of the Pops performances that summer, with Bowie’s performance of “Starman” in July, followed by Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” in August. Of course, these performances showed that it wasn’t just the music, but also their looks that made these acts such sensations. Ferry’s Elvis from Mars look was almost understated compared to the band’s other glitzy and shiny outfits. Bowie’s colorful looks and renegade approach — including his physical intimacy with Mick Ronson on TOTP — turned manhood on its head in different ways than Roxy Music. As Ziggy, he was playful and conspiratorial, shy and confident. His androgynous looks showed people possibilities and options – the 1 and there were many ways to be a rock star and a person in the world.
As with many bands from England, the reception in America was different. Roxy Music’s debut album failed to reach the US charts in 1972; To date, it has yet to grace the major Billboard album charts. (It reached #19 on the vinyl albums chart in 2020.) Support for the band came from more adventurous channels like Cleveland radio station WMMS, which recognized how Roxy fitted in with the rest of the forward-thinking musical pantheon. Subsequent albums by Roxy Music would at least make the charts, although the band’s reputation in America certainly has room to grow.
Guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, David Bowie and drummer Mick Woodmansey of ‘Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ pose for a portrait in London, England, November 1972. (Archives by Michael Ochs/Getty Images)
As with many bands from England, the reception in America was different… It is clear that Ziggy’s myth-making was already underway in 1972.
David Bowie is a different story. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, meanwhile, debuted at #196 on the U.S billboard album chart for the week of June 17, 1972, having charted at number 207 on the main chart the week before. (These chart placements likely invalidate claims of a mid-June US release date, although the official Bowie website has found record label correspondence to pin a UK release as June 16.) It eventually peaked at number 21 – albeit that peak mark occurred the weeks after Bowie’s death in 2016.
However, it is clear that Ziggy’s myth-making was already underway in 1972. In a June 3 review of Starman, Cash Box praised the song, writing that it “literally proves the best rock is out of this world, but is more like ‘dim cosmic jive.’ Should ‘Changes’ outshine its stellar orbit to the top and establish a new superstar in our galaxy.” Record World also gushed about the single, which was backed by Suffragette City: “Another two-sided space oddity from the first great British superstar of the ’70s years; a delightful teen song with daring rocker. Forget it, Bowie got it.”
Issued June 10, 1972 billboard also included a glowing review of the Ziggy Stardust LP: “Nineteen and Seventy-Two might well go down in history as the year Davy Bowie brought glitz and glamor back to rock. He almost is [an, sic] indestructibly sensitive lyricist in popdom. This album is already an avant-garde superstar and will bring it to the masses for home use with this album.” That mainstream saturation wasn’t quite there, at least not yet – but Ziggy’s (and by extension Bowie’s) reputation was already beginning to crystallize.
But even today, these two albums resonate through modern music. That’s partly because so many British punk and post-punk artists inspired by Bowie and Roxy are still active – to name a few, Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond and Toyah. However, these LPs showed that one could build on musical blueprints and create a whole new approach; “Ziggy Stardust” proved that concept albums can work if the songwriting is strong enough. And both have shown that being wildly original eventually pays off – once the rest of the world catches up with your size and creativity.
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[CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified 1971 album “Hunky Dory.” This has been fixed and updated.]
https://www.salon.com/2022/06/19/david-bowie-roxy-music-ziggy-stardust/ 50 years ago, David Bowie and Roxy Music made history