Released: 16 June 1972
Mick Ronson: electric guitar, organ
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
David Bowie’s first hit single since 1969’s ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Starman’ helped cement his position as a pop superstar at the forefront of the glam rock movement.
The song was written in response to a request from RCA’s head of A&R, Dennis Katz, who believed the Ziggy Stardust album required a suitable single. He had heard a demo of ‘Starman’ and believed it would be a hit.
David went back home that weekend and knocked out ‘Starman’. He played it to us and we all said – well, that’s a single! He could do that when he felt like it… he always had the ability to write a hit song. But he didn’t always want to do that. His message for a particular album, or a particular style he was in, was more important to him than whether he made a hit record with it.
Music Republic Magazine
‘Starman’ replaced a cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Around And Around’, originally released in 1958 as the b-side of his ‘Johnny B Goode’ single. Retitled ‘Round And Round’, it was often performed live by the Spiders From Mars, right up to their final show on 3 July 1973.
It would have been the kind of number that Ziggy would have done onstage. He jammed it for old times’ sake in the studio, and our enthusiasm for it probably waned after we heard it a few times. We replaced it with a thing called ‘Starman’. I don’t think it’s any great loss, really.
The octave leap in the chorus of ‘Starman’ bears a distinct similarity to ‘Over The Rainbow’, sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz. According to drummer Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, Bowie intentionally based his song on the 1939 classic.
Ziggy Stardust was done as far as we were concerned, but Defries came to Bowie and told him that RCA needed a single. They liked the album, but they didn’t feel that it had a song that would grab people instantly. ‘I’m going to write my own ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’,’ said Bowie, sitting down to write a song on his acoustic guitar. We went back to Trident between Christmas and January and recorded ‘Starman’. Without that one track, the album might not have come out at all.
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie
Bowie even played up the similarity during the Spiders From Mars’ two shows at London’s Rainbow Theatre in August 1972, singing “There’s a Starman, over the rainbow…”
I didn’t notice the Judy Garland reference [the song was thought to sound a lot like ‘Over the Rainbow’] at the time, but when I made ‘My Sweet Lord’ for George Harrison I didn’t realise that it sounded a bit like ‘He’s So Fine’ by the Chiffons. When you’re working on records you just don’t hear anything other than what you’re making at the time.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones