Ranking the 5 Best Songs on ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ by David Bowie

David Bowie‘s quasi-concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars delivered him to new levels of stardom and introduced one of the most iconic alter egos of his career. All the trappings, from the look to the backstory, drew attention, but none of it would have mattered had Bowie not risen to the occasion with a wonderful set of songs.

Videos by American Songwriter

We’re here to choose the five best tracks from that brilliant 1972 album. Here are our choices:

5. “Ziggy Stardust”

What could have been a mere bit of exposition in lesser hands turns into a striking rise-and-fall story all on its own, meaning that it can stand alone even without the context of the rest of the album. Bowie was a solo artist and dictated the course of his career and music pretty much all on his own, so he didn’t have to worry about bands breaking up around him. Still, he showed great insight here on how it could all happen, not so much in terms of the melodrama of the story, but by describing how the talent and ego needed to build a great band is also often what destroys it.

4. “Moonage Daydream”

The song that introduces Ziggy Stardust to Earth features a thrilling performance by the band that Bowie assembled for the record. Mick Ronson, whose musicianship is such an integral part of the album as a whole, really shines on electric guitar here, while Woody Woodmansey helps the whole thing swing with his drumming. Bowie himself shows off his musical dexterity with contributions on saxophone and, of all things, pennywhistle. Meanwhile, the Ziggy character is so striking right off the bat, in all his rude allure, that it’s impossible to avoid keeping your ‘lectric eye on him.

3. “Five Years”

The premise for the album is laid out in this first song, but, again, it doesn’t ever get so bogged down with telling the story that it forgets to entertain. “Five Years” features some of Bowie’s finest lyrics on the record. As the narrator gets the news of Earth’s imminent demise, he begins to rattle off all the sights he sees, taking note of how everyone else is reacting to what’s happening. But then things take an unexpectedly touching turn when he starts to think about all the things he’ll begin to miss when everything is gone.

2. “Suffragette City”

The lyrics to this one are frantic and frenzied, which is only fitting considering the tenor of the music, and they don’t really have too much connection to the rest of the album. But who cares, really, when this song is such a thrilling listen. Mick Ronson really gets to zoom off into the stratosphere in this one, as he stays masterfully in control of the proceedings even as the pace gets hotter and hotter. Bowie is mesmerizing on lead vocals as well. Every time he beckons, Hey man, he draws us all in to the wild world of this song, testing our mettle to see if we could survive in it.

1. “Starman”

The sci-fi trappings of the Ziggy Stardust story have been played out with slight variations in countless movies and novels before and since the album’s release. But Bowie’s ability to bring humanity to it all is what keeps drawing us into this project. Within the story, “Starman” might refer to an alien. But Bowie seems to be also drawing up a metaphor about the connection of fans to any kind of celebrity. Beyond that, you can even hear the song as an ode to the power of music itself, considering the titular character’s ability to unite people in a harsh world via the sound he creates.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Ranking the Top 5 Beatles Songs Where Group Members Played Unusual Instruments