“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars,” was the album that turned David Bowie into a hugely popular international rock star. In 1972 the world was ready for a concept album about a bisexual alien who came down to earth to rock out and die. Ziggy Stardust will always be remembered among most music critics as Bowie’s best album, but his second best, at least in my opinion, was one that came right after.
Aladdin Sane came out in 1973 after Bowie had toured the world as Ziggy Stardust. The United States in particular had made quite an impression on Mr. Bowie since every song on the follow up album seemed to focus on cities he had visited during his U.S. tour, the most obvious one being “Panic in Detroit.” Aladdin Sane was very similar to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust insofar that Bowie continued to play his character of Ziggy Stardust in concerts. Furthermore the characters of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane were for the most part interchangeable personas, with the only outstanding key difference being that Ziggy Stardust was a rock star and it is suggested that Aladdin Sane is an actor. Either way both bisexual aliens are artistic performers and carrying on and develop much in the same manner. The important difference between the two albums is the changes in Mr. Bowie himself.
Ziggy Stardust was a raw album, full of emotion and very powerful as a result; that emotion was somewhat calmed in Aladdin Sane, however despite losing some sense of drama, Bowie had refined his song writer ability, the tracks on Aladdin Sane are more methodical, with their final cuts being crisper sounding than that of Ziggy Stardust’s songs. However this first difference is something of a subtle one since the two albums simply belong together, a concept album could easily be made by combining different collections of tracks from the two albums, and furthermore a very similar, if not identical concept would prevail every time given the very similar subject matter.
The true difference between the two albums is not seen by making a comparison of quality between the two albums it is seen within Bowie’s own reflection. David Bowie saw the world differently after the success of Ziggy Stardust in 1972. In 1972 when Bowie was writing songs for Ziggy Stardust he was mediocre popular British musician who had just become successful enough to stop being compared to one hit wonder Zager and Evans. He was on the outside looking in; the character he had created in Ziggy reflected that. Bowie felt like an alien trying to fit into the music industry, trying to fit into the world’s culture, dreaming about being a huge rock star. By 1973, while writing Aladdin Sane David Bowie had become that huge rock star, he was no longer on the outside, Ziggy Stardust was a household name, Mr. Bowie was now a rock star who knew what the world had to offer him. For better or worse there is a certain increase in level of maturity in Aladdin Sane.
The basic story about Aladdin Sane is that some very successful actor survives the apocalypse and as he wanders the sad remains of the world he first ponders selfishly “who will love Aladdin Sane?” And we follow his quest of trying to find some meaning left in the ruined world, only to watch what there is left slowly decay and die, yet he, this strange creature lingers on into immortality, and something too about becoming gender neutral but that never struck me as epic, or as important, or as interesting, as the quest towards immortality. The song that stands out to me the most on Aladdin Sane is “Time;” a song wrapped with subtle double and sometimes triple meanings.
The key lyric in “Time,” is “we should be on by now,” imply, we should be dead by now. However another reoccurring line is “take your time,” that simple line holds so many different meanings. “Take your time,” implying it’s your time to die, but also, don’t rush, take your time embracing death, but also “take your time,” was an expression at the time when passing the needle of heroin when it was someone else turn you would tell them to “take their time,” so the line is also a drug reference, and an appropriate one too since another line in the song goes “Time – Quaaludes and red wine, Demanding Billy Dolls, and other friends of mine.” Billy Dolls was a drummer and friend of David Bowie’s who overdosed on heroin, tying this theme of death back to a personal example for Mr. Bowie. I cannot think of many songs that carrying so much depth and hidden meaning within their lyrics than “Time.” In fact “Time” is the song I use as a status quo for deep lyrical content when talking to people, I bring it up all the time, and now, as is appropriate I have talked about it in The Music in Review.
Until later this month, keep on rocking in the free world.
- Colin Kelly