What Happened When Ziggy Went To America?

Today marks 45 long years since David Bowie released his iconic LP, Aladdin Sane which featured perhaps his most memorable image on the cover.  The album itself came about through Bowie’s own experiences on the road during the second half of 1972 and was recorded in London, New York and, of all places, Nashville!  It’s a collection of fine songs with observations on the crazy and occasionally calmer aspects of American life and culture.  Almost as if Ziggy Stardust had picked up schizophrenic tenancies and allowed them out of the cage via a 10 track call for help.  So where did it all start to change for Ziggy?


Bowie himself was tiring of life on the road, surrounded by strangers and rarely being allowed time to breath or a moment to himself.  And when he was gallivanting around the United States in a bus, he was up on stage, playing to perplexed crowds who didn’t know how to make either heads nor tails of what was unfolding in front of them.  Many of Ziggy’s early American concert were played to half empty halls and, despite a concerted push through the media, Ziggy took a little time to gain acceptance from a largely jeans and t-shirt wearing nation who were possibly not quite ready for a man dressed as well, a woman in many eyes.  Sometimes we forget just how tough it would have been for Bowie to cope with the pressure to deliver, night after night for his then manager, Tony DeFries.  The album also allowed fans a first glimpse of the majestic Mike Garson in the studio.  Garson left his distinctive fingerprints all over the album as it shot to number 1 in the UK and number 17 in the USA.  Collectively over 1973, Bowie had 6 albums spend no less than a combined 182 weeks on the British charts.  After years of struggle, he had arrived in a big way.  The album was also the second biggest seller of the year in 1973 coming in just behind Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Just The Piano Player”.  I know right?


“The Jean Genie” appeared as a lead off single in November 1972.  The single spent 13 weeks in the UK charts, hitting a peak of number 2.  Sadly, it only reached the lower end of the charts in America with a not so high chart position of 72.  By April 1973, RCA were needing more product to coincide with the album so “Drive-In Saturday” appeared as a single and that surged up to a peak of number 3 in the UK charts.  By now, Bowie was selling out concerts all over the country and his face was cropping up on the cover of pretty much any music publication worth a crust.  As 1973 rolled on, RCA also pushed out “Time” & “Let’s Spend The Night Together” as singles from the album before digging into Bowie’s recent past to dredge “Life On Mars?” for another run.  Well, it performed much better than its first release in 1971 as it swept to number 3 on the UK carts in early July 1973.


Since its release, Aladdin Sane has gone into folklore as one of Britain’s most iconic album releases notching up almost 5 million unit sales worldwide.  It has seen multiple re-issues down the years with the most significant being 1985, 1990, 1999, 2003 and lastly, 2015.  Shows to support the album kicked off in December 1972 and progressed through the UK, North America, Japan before moving back to the UK where it all fell apart on July 3rd 1973 as Bowie retired Ziggy and Aladdin on stage at The Hammersmith Odean, much to the shock of his fans and surprise of his own band.  After a short break, Bowie went to Paris to record Pin Ups which also shot to number one in the UK charts to cap off a magnificent year.  A few month later, Bowie was back again, this time only in America where he toured his Diamond Dogs LP to critical acclaim and sold out shows all over the United States.  By the summer, he had tired of the Diamond Dogs concept and began recording his next album, Young Americans in Philadelphia before returning to the stage later in the year with his Diamond Dogs Tour which now resembled more or less a stripped back version of the earlier theatrical show and now labelled it the “Philly Dogs Tour” due to its rapid new direction.


Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how Bowie manage to release no less than 5 studio albums between June 1972 and March 1975.  All that in just under three years!  For many Bowie fans though, Aladdin Sane is where shit got real as Ziggy Stardust extended his reach and plundered new levels before falling back to earth with a shuddering thud via Aladdin Sane.  A prolific period by any standards yet full of quality at every turn.  In 2018, it seems a little sad that artists are no longer afforded the creative freedom to release when they feel as the music industry now falls foul of scheduling platforms and perhaps even artists who lack the creative drive to release so much quality material in such a short space of time.  To be a Bowie fan in 1973 would have been a dream come true and I highly doubt we will ever see anything like it again any time soon.   A masterful creation that should sit proudly in every music lovers collection. So happy 45th birthday to Aladdin Sane, you don’t look a day over 1973!


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Born and raised in Sydney. Well travelled. I have a deep love for live theatre, music and the arts. Ohh, I may also have a deep love for Liverpool Football Club!

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