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Week 83 | Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture Soundtrack (1983)

This is the soundtrack to the concert film of Bowie’s last concert (sort of) as Ziggy Stardust, so it is really a live album.  As audible audience shrieks indicate, concert-goers did not expect Bowie to announce that this would be, “the last show we would ever do.”  Never mind that Ziggy and the Spiders would make another appearance for the television special, the “1980 Floor Show” (which also exists as a live album), or that Bowie himself was far from finished performing.  Nonetheless, this was sort of the end of sort of an era.  Appropriately enough, it is sort of an end to this project.  While I expect future releases of new “live” Bowie albums, compilations and perhaps some unearthed content, this is the last album I currently have to review.

This is a good album to end on.  Ziggy was Bowie’s most iconic look, yet he hadn’t adopted it yet when he posed for the cover of, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”  The movie itself, which wasn’t released until 1983, helped cement the image— crimson mullet, bizarre costumes, sexual acts with Mick Ronson’s guitar. The film quality is not great, but it is good enough and the vision very much adds to the sound.  The sound is pretty good.  This live album is comparable to “Santa Monica ‘72,” which I think is a tad better (Bowie sounds more energized and the songs somehow sound fresher).  But this is still a very good live album, representing what was already an expansive collection of great songs.  

Highlights of live albums for me are usually the songs that can’t be heard elsewhere and therefore are new for the artist.  There are three such examples here, though in each case recordings can be found elsewhere of these songs in other form – “White Light/White Heat;” “My Death,” and a medley of “The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” “All the Young Dudes” and, “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  

The presence of, “My Death,” “Time,” and “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” on the same album, as well as the declaration that this was the final show, gives the whole of the album an ominous tenor.  This is not necessarily entirely because Bowie was wrapping up his Ziggy persona— through this point Bowie had embraced decay— societal and personal — accepting that everything was falling apart but deciding not to worry and enjoy the ride.  This sentiment would be expressed more directly in his next studio album, “Diamond Dogs” (“as they pulled you out of the oxygen tent, you asked for the latest party…”)  This ethic is reinforced even before and after Bowie was on stage— he’d play music used in the movie, “A Clockwork Orange” before and after the show.

But throughout all the darkness, Bowie himself is the light.  The film is dark— literally— but Bowie is bright.  His skin is nearly luminous.  His hair looks like fire.  His radiant outfits, which he changes throughout, which are themselves works of surrealistic art.  Sadly, Bowie does not perform “Starman” on this particular album, but he portrays himself as a beacon in the darkness.  Maybe not exactly hopeful, but conspicuous.

Since his death, it seems to me that this is the most reproduced image of Bowie.  Maybe not images from the actual film, but images of Bowie looking like he looks in the film.  There is some irony to that considering the film was released in 1983, at the height of Bowie’s reintroduction as a mainstream pop singer who presented as more debonair than freaky.  But its hard to shake Ziggy.  

So as this is a kind of an end point— commentary on an album marking an end point, and the last album (for a while) to appear in this exercise— its hard for me not to reflect on what is my favorite Bowie album, favorite song, or even favorite phase.  For me, the song is easy— “Beauty and the Beast” from “Heroes.”  I also think that period in the late 1970s was Bowie’s strongest.  His voice was at its strongest, his productivity was at its most prolific, and as always, I just like the music he was making.  I have long held, “Scary Monsters,” to be my favorite album, too.

Its much harder for me to place these favorites in a larger context.  I can isolate my three favorite songs (“Panic in Detroit” and “Queen Bitch” being the other two), and even, say my four favorite albums (“Ziggy,” “Diamond Dogs,” and “Station to Station” being the other three).  But beyond that its tough.  

But with this post, I have completed commentary on more than 83 albums, and there is the enormous temptation to try to rank them.  The challenge is not simply that its hard for me to choose between, say, “Heathen” and, ‘Blackstar.”  But also my mind changes.  And beyond that,I might very well rather have something like, “Santa Monica ‘72” than, say, “Never Let Me Down,” but if I was actually in a position to take one over the other, how could I reject an album of new material in favor of a live album?  I probably wouldn’t.  Similarly, for purposes of this exercise I have included many albums on which Bowie contributed, but was not the main artist.  I like Iggy Pop’s, “Lust for Life” more than a few of Bowie’s weaker works, but despite Bowie’s heavy involvement on that album, I don’t know that it truly belongs on a list of Bowie albums.

So, anyway, here’s my attempt today to rank the studio albums on which Bowie was the main artist.  I’m sure this list will be different tomorrow, but here it is:

  1. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)   
  2. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and their Spiders from Mars
  3. Diamond Dogs
  4. Station to Station
  5. Hunky Dory
  6. 1. Outside
  7. Heathen
  8. Blackstar
  9. Aladdin Sane
  10. Lodger
  11. “Heroes”
  12. Low
  13. The Man Who Sold the World
  14. Space Oddity
  15. Let’s Dance
  16. The Next Day
  17. Black Tie White Noise
  18. Earthling
  19. Young Americans 
  20. Pin Ups
  21. Reality 
  22. Tin Machine II
  23. Tin Machine
  24. The Buddha of Suburbia
  25. Tonight
  26. hours…
  27. The Next Day Extra
  28. Never Let Me Down
  29. Labyrinth 
  30. David Bowie
  31. Baal

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