The first single from the Ziggy Stardust album, ‘Starman’, was released in the UK on 28 April 1972.
‘Starman’ became Bowie’s first hit single since ‘Space Oddity‘ in 1969, and the similar interstellar theme helped cement Bowie’s otherworldly reputation. Indeed, many people assumed that it was the follow-up to his earlier hit, not realising that Bowie had released two albums and several singles in the interim.
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released in the UK on 16 June 1972. It sold 8,000 copies in its first week, and the following week entered the top ten.
Its success was bolstered further by a performance of ‘Starman’ on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, which was broadcast on 6 July.
Bowie’s Top Of The Pops performance was a game-changer. It catapulted Bowie into primetime, making him a household name and converting a legion of new fans. The single peaked at number 10 in the charts, and helped the Ziggy album reach number five.
The ‘Starman’ performance made a deep impression on a number of viewers who would later become famous musicians, each of whom owed a degree of debt to Bowie. They included Boy George, Adam Ant, Mick Jones of the Clash, Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, and Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen.
As soon as I heard ‘Starman’ and saw him on Top Of The Pops, I was hooked. I seem to remember me being the first to say it, and then there was a host of other people saying how the Top Of The Pops performance changed their lives.
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars spent two years on the UK charts. By the end of 1972 it had sold 95,968 copies in Britain, and was certified gold shortly afterwards. It peaked at number five on the UK charts in February 1973. It returned to the UK chart in January 1981, during the New Romantic movement and in the wake of the success of ‘Ashes To Ashes’.
The release date in the US is unclear, but is believed to have been in late May 1972. The issue of Record World dated 27 May stated that the album “is available”, and it appeared on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Top LPs chart at number 207 on the week ending 10 June.
At the end of 1972 it had sold roughly the same number of copies in America as in the UK, although it only peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart in April 1973. Its sales mainly picked up when Bowie and the Spiders From Mars toured the US, and it was eventually certified platinum.
Following Bowie’s death on 10 January 2016, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars reached number 21 on the US Billboard 200, a new peak. It has sold an estimated 7.5 million copies worldwide, and is Bowie’s second-best-selling album behind Let’s Dance.
Reissues, remixes, remasters
The album was first released on compact disc by RCA in November 1984, with a digital master made from the original master tapes. It was reissued again by Rykodisc/EMI in 1990, in a remastered edition with five bonus tracks: ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, ‘Sweet Head’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (demo)‘, and ‘Lady Stardust (demo)’.
In 1990, Bowie was interviewed about his feelings regarding Rykodisc’s reissue project, and spoke of his dissatisfaction with the sound on the Ziggy Stardust album.
The thing I’ve found interesting is the amount of enthusiasm and fire in the early stuff – there was a real desperate edge to it. This guy really wanted to be heard. I’m not sure if it’s endearing or embarrassing, but you definitely get the impression that this person didn’t want to be left behind.
I find the Ziggy Stardust record very thin. I don’t like the sound on that, it’s much thinner than I always thought it was. It sounded really powerful then; maybe systems have got better, it sounds kind of weedy. I thought Diamond Dogs sounds really good, I like that one, and I’ll always love the Eno/Fripp/Belew stuff [Low, “Heroes”, Lodger]. It’s the very early stuff, there’s a naivety there that’s not disenchanting, but I’m not very comfortable with it.
But there you go, it’s what’s there.
Q magazine, April 1990
Tony Visconti, who produced earlier recordings by Bowie and would reunite with him for Diamond Dogs, expressed a similar sentiment in 2016.
I liked those records musically, but I think I could have done a better job. They don’t have the weight of a rock album; they sound a bit thin to me.
Uncut, October 2016
Bowie expressed regret that the multitrack recordings had been lost, which made remixing impossible.
I’ll never forgive my ex-management company in those days, MainMan, for losing my 24 tracks. They don’t exist any more. I would give my right arm to remix that album, because I know with today’s technology I could bring out a lot of what Mick was playing, and give a lot more resonance to the bass and the bass drum.
However, many of the original multitrack tapes were indeed unearthed in the years since, and the album was remixed by Ken Scott in Bowie’s lifetime.
A newly-remastered version by Peter Mew was released by Virgin in September 1999, but it was overshadowed by a two-CD reissue in July 2002, the first in a short series of 30th anniversary reissues.
The 2002 version contained a second disc with several bonus tracks, including most of the key unreleased recordings from the Ziggy sessions. The main album, however, was blighted by the left and right channels being reversed, and various edits including the omission of the three harmonic guitar notes before ‘Suffragette City’, and the count-in to ‘Hang On To Yourself’.
Ten years later, in June 2012, a 40th Anniversary Edition was released by EMI/Virgin. It was remastered by Ray Staff, who had engineered the album at Trident Studios. This version was released on CD, vinyl, and a DVD which contained Staff’s remaster, along with stereo and 5.1 remixes made in 2003 by Ken Scott. These also included Scott’s remixes of ‘Moonage Daydream’ (instrumental), ‘The Supermen’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, and ‘Sweet Head’.
Scott’s stereo remix was also included in the Five Years (1969-1973) box set, released in September 2015, with alternative artwork from the Heddon Street shoot. The box also contained the 2012 remaster, which was additionally released on CD, vinyl and digital download.
In June 2017 a limited edition gold vinyl edition was released by Parlophone.