In the studio

Most of the Ziggy Stardust project happened very soon after we had recorded Hunky Dory, even before David was actually signed to a label. Once again everything was recorded at Trident Studios, in the heart of London’s Soho area.

The only discussion about the album was that David wanted it to be more rock and roll, which for me meant very little change, as far as I was concerned it came down more to the attitude of Trevor, Woody, Ronno and David. The same kind of attitude as they had when we recorded ‘Queen Bitch’ for Hunky Dory.

Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969–1973) book

The oldest recording on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was ‘It Ain’t Easy’, which was left over from the Hunky Dory sessions. The song had been recorded on 9 July 1971, four months before the main bulk of work began.

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.

The basics took about four or five days and were virtually the same for every track. It was only the nuances in each song that would vary. What’s more, nothing was recorded 100% live. There were overdubs on every track, and as is usually the case, some more than others.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

Bowie was in the midst of one of his most prolific songwriting periods. In addition to recording the two albums in quick succession, he recorded the b-sides ‘Sweet Head’, ‘Amsterdam’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘Round And Round’, new versions of ‘The Supermen’ and ‘Holy Holy’, and outtakes including ‘Shadow Man’, ‘It’s Gonna Rain Again’, ‘Only One Paper Left’ and ‘Looking For A Friend’.

Prior to the sessions, producer Ken Scott brought Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey into Trident to settle on a drum sound for the album – and played a memorable practical joke on the drummer.

Woody had complained to me that he wasn’t overly happy with the drum sound on Hunky Dory. He felt it sounded too much like he was hitting “corn flake packets”. For the first session when recording an album, I always ask the drummer to come to the studio a couple of hours early as drums always take longer to set up and it takes longer to get his sound than the rest of the band… I had the tea boy go out and buy as many different size packets of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as he could find. Then Peter Hunsley, the band’s roadie, and I set up these packages on stands in place of the drums. When Woody walked in and saw the setup he fell about laughing at the absurdity of it all, yet understood very well that I had taken his point seriously. We quickly moved the real drums back in and got back to work, finishing about three hours later with a drum sound we both liked.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

Recording began on 8 November 1971, with early versions of ‘Star’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’. At this early stage ‘Star’ was known by its working title, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’.

Bowie was unhappy with these early recordings, and decided to remake both songs. They were successfully re-recorded on 11 November, along with versions of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Sweet Head’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘Looking For A Friend’.

On 12 November ‘Moonage Daydream’, a new version of ‘The Supermen’ and ‘Lady Stardust’ were recorded, each completed in just two takes. The Spiders From Mars also recorded ‘Soul Love’ in just one attempt.

Monday 15 November saw the recording of the album’s opening song ‘Five Years’, as well as the unreleased and incomplete tracks ‘It’s Gonna Rain Again’ and ‘Shadow Man’.

A cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Round And Round’ was also taped during the sessions, though the precise date is not known. Another cover, of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’, had been taped in the summer of 1971, and also became a contender for the album.

Originally one of the tracks intended for Ziggy was ‘Round And Round’, the old Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll classic. That one had the least number of overdubs of all the songs that weren’t strictly acoustic and was completely finished. It was actually supposed to be on the album until RCA decided they needed a single and that was the track that got kicked.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust