In the studio
A revised running order for Ziggy Stardust was drawn up on 2 February 1972, and had ‘Starman’ in place of ‘Round And Round’ as the album’s fourth track.
When the album was turned in to RCA they apparently didn’t hear a single, so back in we went to cut ‘Starman’ at the beginning of January 1972. The song turned around quickly, I think a day to record the basics and most of the overdubs, a day to finish overdubs, including the strings, and another to mix.
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust
The final version of ‘Starman’ was recorded at Trident Studios two days later, on 4 February, along with ‘Suffragette City’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’.
The bass line on ‘Starman’ was very simple, and we recorded it very quickly. Everything we did with David was, like, one take. He learned it and away we went, and that was the finished product. But it’s a pretty simple bass line to play. I just used to play whatever came into my head that felt good, really.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
‘Starman’ was recorded in eleven takes – an unusually high number for the normally prolific and efficient Bowie and the Spiders From Mars.
The ‘Starman’ single contained a louder Morse code section between the verse and chorus. This was included in initial copies of the UK Ziggy Stardust album, although other countries’ editions contained the quieter passage.
There are probably two things worth mentioning about this. Firstly, the really bad edit where Woody comes in. I used a lot of reverb on the rhythm acoustic guitar for the intro but I edited on the drum fill instead of the downbeat and so the reverb cuts off early. I’m sure that stopped it selling a lot of copies.
The other thing is a mystery to me and it concerns the ‘morse code’ sections leading into each chorus. The overall sound was a piano and two guitars, an octave apart and then all put through the Countryman phaser. There are two different versions of this part, one much louder than the other. I have no recollection of doing two different versions and so have no idea why two versions were done nor which was the original!
Five Years (1969-1973) book