Recording: Star, Hang On To Yourself

The first recording session for The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars took place on 8 November 1971.

It occurred before the Hunky Dory album was released, such was Bowie’s urgency and prolificacy at this time. Having waited years for commercial and critical success, he knew he was on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Bowie and his band underwent a fortnight of rehearsals at Underhill Studio in Blackheath, prior to beginning work at Trident Studios in central London. Despite laying the groundwork before entering the studios, his musicians still often felt underprepared.

I really enjoyed doing that album, but I remember it being a nightmare because Bowie would come in and just throw songs at us. We were used to it, but the unfortunate thing wasn’t, ‘Here’s a song. Let’s rehearse it for an hour.’ It was, ‘Here’s a song. You got it? Let’s go.’ You had one or two takes, and that was it. It still turned out great.
Trevor Bolder
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust, Ken Scott

Bowie’s drummer found that the singer’s impatience spurred them to lay down recordings will little delay, without compromising on quality.

We’d do the second take and feel, ‘Now I know the song,’ and he’d go, ‘That’s the one.’ We’d all argue that we could do a better one but he’d say, ‘No, that’s the one.’ After a while we’d begin to think, ‘We’d better get it by the second take.’
Woody Woodmansey
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust, Ken Scott

The Spiders From Mars were given just two weeks to record the album at Trident, with another two weeks allocated for mixing and post-production. Ken Scott was producing, and Mike Stone engineered the session.

On this day versions of ‘Star’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’ were recorded. At this early stage ‘Star’ was known by its working title, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’. Bowie later decided that he disliked the results, however, and both songs were re-recorded on 11 November.

When we first started recording I wasn’t happy with my drum sound. I told Ken that my tom-toms sounded like me hitting cornflake packets and my snare sounded like a big packet of crisps. When I came into the studio the next day, Ken glanced up at me casually.

‘Can you check your drums, before we get started,’ he said.

‘Yeah, OK.’

As I got to the drum room I glanced through the window but couldn’t see any equipment. Puzzled, I opened the door and there on the floor, in place of my drums, were two Kellogg’s corn flakes packets, a bag of crisps and plastic coffee cups in place of my cymbals. They were all mic’d up just as my kit had been. As I gaped at them I heard roars of laughter behind me. Everyone had crept down the stairs to see my reaction! They were pissing themselves. This stuff kept us sane, or relatively sane anyway.

After this episode we brought the drums back into the room and Ken and I worked on getting the rockier sound needed for the Ziggy songs.

Woody Woodmansey
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie
Last updated: 7 April 2023
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Recording: Ziggy Stardust LP
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