Released: 16 June 1972
Mick Ronson: electric guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
One of the oldest songs on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, ‘Star’ was a tale of rock and roll ambition, projection, and desire.
The song comes at a crucial juncture in the Ziggy album. Having observed his sometime rival Marc Bolan in ‘Lady Stardust’, in ‘Star’ Bowie puts himself forward as a rock icon, to be followed by his fully-realised vision in ‘Hang On To Yourself’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
Bowie had toyed with the idea of stardom and artifice since ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ on his 1967 debut album. In his 1971 song ‘Changes’ he sang of the “million dead-end streets” that he travelled in his search for stardom, which was made real with Ziggy.
I believe in fantasy and star images. I am very aware of these kinds of people and feel they are very important figures in our society. People like to focus on somebody who they might consider not quite the same as them. Whether it’s true or not is immaterial.
Cheltenham Chronicle, 1971
The word ‘star’ occurs in nine song titles released by Bowie, four on the Ziggy Stardust album alone. ‘The Prettiest Star’ was the earliest, and was followed by ‘Starman’, ‘Lady Stardust’, ‘Star’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)’, ‘New Killer Star’, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, and ‘Blackstar’.
It’s been one of the banes of my life, not being able to develop proper relationships with people. I thought that I would always be a loner. Maybe that’s why I wanted so much to be a rock star. I unconsciously thought that if I was in that position, people wouldn’t be able to touch me. I often wonder if I wanted to outprice myself emotionally, put myself in a place where I didn’t have to relate to people because I found it such a burden.
Interview magazine, February 1993
Bowie recorded a demo of ‘Star’ in May 1971, at Radio Luxembourg’s London eight-track studio, prior to the Hunky Dory sessions. It had Bowie on vocals, handclaps, slide guitar and piano.
Later that month Bowie was introduced to Chameleon, who was signed to the Chrysalis subsidiary Butterfly Productions by Bowie’s publisher Bob Grace. Bowie gave Chameleon a demo of ‘Star’, which he hoped to produce for them; the band eventually recorded it with John Schroder, but it was unreleased.
Bowie’s ‘Star’ demo was auctioned at Christie’s in 2000 by Chameleon singer Les Payne for £1,527. The recording, and Chameleon’s own version, have a number of lyrical differences from the final studio version. Missing were Tony, Rudi, Bevan and Sonny, and its urgency was replaced by a plaintive request to be listened to:
If someone had the sense to hear me
If someone had the time to see
I could tell them who they are
About the rock and roll stars
Someone has to build the buildings
Someone has to pull them downI could make it all worthwhile
As a rock and roll star…
Try to get it on with the nation
Maybe I could change the world
I could tell them I tried
I could make a transformation as a rock and roll star
When he came to record it for Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was firmly placing himself as the star in waiting. As if to emphasise his urgency and desire for fame, the music often switches to a bar of 2/4 when Bowie sings “rock and roll star”. To further wrongfoot the listener, two mostly-instrumental sections each contain three bars in 6/4 (“Get it on, yeah”).
Just another straightforward rocker. The thing that strikes me is that all David’s backing vocals are actually performed where they are meant to be. Completely unlike today, wherein they are sung once and then flown/pasted in all the other places.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
In the US, the Stage recording of ‘Star’ was released as a single, but failed to chart.
Bowie also played the song during the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983, where it opened a number of the concerts.
In the studio
Bowie first recorded ‘Star’ at Trident Studios on Monday 8 November, along with ‘Hang On To Yourself’. At this early stage it had the working title ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’, but was presumably changed due to its similarity to ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’.
‘Star’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’ were both re-recorded on 11 November, along with unused versions of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Looking For A Friend’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, and ‘Sweet Head’.
‘Star’ is a steal from Mitch Mitchell’s beat in Jimi Hendrix’s ‘I Don’t Live Today’, but speeded up, because it kicks. As a future rock band, we thought, you would be influenced by the great rock artists of the past, hence the Jimi reference.
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie
Bowie was interviewed by Charles Shaar Murray for the 27 January 1973 edition of the New Musical Express. Towards the end of their exchange, Murray wrote that “Bowie’s other major cop from Lennon was pinching the backing vocal line from ‘Lovely Rita’ (from Sgt. Pepper) and incorporating it into ‘Star’ (on the Ziggy album).”
I have to interplay with other writers, because I’ve always been a fan. If I wasn’t a fan, I’d probably be far more individual – the other kind of individuality where its very, very ingrained in the self. Because I’m very involved with society on my level, I have to use the tools that the present society has been created with, musically. That’s why, I lift from, and use and am intrigued by other writers and their music.
NME, 27 January 1973