Ziggy Stardust is played by David Bowie. The artist’s 1972 breakthrough song, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, made the two names and personalities synonymous. The story of Ziggy Stardust, a bisexual alien musician, is a fascinating way to build a reputation for yourself, from the space-age references to the inventive, even strange lyrics. But would David Bowie want it any other way? Let’s get into the story of the album and its unassuming, dimly lit album cover down below.
Let’s take a quick glance at the music on the album before we get to the album cover. Ziggy Stardust, a sexually inquisitive alien rock rockstar, appears in the LP. While Bowie has stated that the album was not intended to be a comprehensive concept record or rock opera, it has essentially become one. Thus, the record narrates the story of the spaceman, a narrative that has followed Bowie as he has helped flesh out the figure, both literally and metaphorically.
While many of the songs on the album, from “Moonage Daydream” to “Starman,” have since become classics, the lyrics underscore difficulties Bowie seemed to have with the world, his world on Earth. The album presents a bird’s eye view of the time it was written, with topics ranging from politics to drugs to sex to business and fame. As with all great art, this one was more like a telescope. But, with those observations, Bowie hopes to instill optimism in his listeners.
Because the character is not merely surface. Really, it’s anything but. Ziggy was influenced by a wide range of artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, and British vocalist Vince Taylor, whom Bowie met after Taylor suffered a nervous breakdown and identified as part-god, part-alien. As for Ziggy, Bowie describes him as a “well-hung, snow white-tanned, left-hand guitar-playing man.”
Terry Pastor recolored a shot taken by photographer Brian Ward. They had previously collaborated with Bowie on the album art for his 1971 album, Hunky Dory. The cover is unusual in that most fans would expect a large closeup portrait of Bowie in his iconic Ziggy Stardust costume, with the lightning strike over his face. But instead of a metropolis, Bowie is surrounded by brick structures, cardboard crates, and cars. It’s not right in your face, to put it mildly.
It’s deceptive. It’s difficult to see, but Bowie is also clutching a guitar, a Gibson Les Paul used by one of the performers on the album. Perhaps the overall effect Bowie was looking for was a random city block watcher turning their head and witnessing this person—this monstrosity, this creature. However, it is Ziggy. Blonde hair, boundless confidence.
The photograph was taken on January 13, 1972, off Regent Street in London. Bowie, who was suffering from the flu, left the studio where he and his band, the Spiders, were working to capture a few photographs before the natural light went out. They began shooting the snap precisely as it began to rain. K. West Aside from Bowie himself, the enormous yellow K. West sign behind him is possibly the most striking feature of the shot.
As the record became a huge hit, selling tens of thousands of copies, K. West began to complain to RCA Records, writing a letter that said, “Our clients are Furriers of high repute who deal with a clientele generally far removed from the pop music world.” Our clients have no desire to be linked with Mr. Bowie or this record since it could be inferred that there is some connection between our client’s firm and Mr. Bowie, which is untrue.”
But, over time, the company grew accustomed to and then grateful for the association, as fans of Bowie’s—some of whom believed there was a secret message in the sign, “K. West” meaning “Quest”—would return to the location to capture their own images, as if on a pilgrimage. However, the company abandoned the premises in 1991. Nonetheless, The Crown Estate, the new owners of the location, installed a commemorative plaque where the sign once stood.
The Rear Cover
With the back cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, Bowie handed his listeners instructions. He stated, “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME.” Many people responded, albeit perhaps without words: Aye aye, Captain!