"Starman" is a single by David Bowie, released in April 1972. The song was a late addition to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, included at the insistence of RCA’s Dennis Katz, who heard a demo and loved the track, believing it would make a great single. It replaced the Chuck Berry cover "Round and Round" on the album.
Music and lyrics
The lyrics describe Ziggy Stardust bringing a message of hope to Earth's youth through the radio, salvation by an alien 'Starman'. The story is told from the point of view of one of the youths who hears Ziggy. According to Bowie himself, speaking to William S. Burroughs
for Rolling Stone
magazine in 1973, Ziggy Stardust is not
the Starman but merely his earthly messenger – contrary to received opinion which often paints Ziggy as an extraterrestrial
. The song has inspired interpretations ranging from an allusion to the Second Coming of Christ
, to an accurate prediction of the plot for the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The music is in a gentle pop rock vein, featuring prominent acoustic guitar and a string arrangement by Mick Ronson, not dissimilar to the style of Bowie's previous album Hunky Dory (1971). The chorus is loosely based on Judy Garland's song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the film The Wizard of Oz. Other influences cited for the track are the T. Rex songs "Telegram Sam" and "Hot Love" (the "boogie" references and "la la la" chorus) and The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (the morse code-esque guitar and piano breaks).
Release and aftermath
From a commercial point of view, "Starman" was a milestone in Bowie’s career, his first hit since 1969's "Space Oddity
" three years before. NME
critics Roy Carr
and Charles Shaar Murray
reported that "many thought it was his first record
since 'Space Oddity'", and assumed that it was a sequel to the earlier single.
The single initially sold steadily rather than spectacularly but earned many positive reviews, John Peel for example calling it "a classic, a gem". Its turning point came when Bowie scored a place on Top of the Pops in July 1972. His performance with the Spiders became famous; according to author David Buckley, "Many fans date their conversion to all things Bowie to this Top of the Pops appearance". It embedded Ziggy Stardust in the nation’s consciousness, helping push "Starman" to #10 and the album, released the previous month, to #5. The single remained in the UK charts for 11 weeks. In the US it peaked at #65.
In February 1999, Q magazine listed the single as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time, as voted by readers.
- "Starman" (Bowie) – 4:16
- "Suffragette City" (Bowie) – 3:25
Appearances in popular culture
- The last episode of Top of the Pops, broadcast on 30 July 2006, featured the 1972 clip of Bowie's performance.
- The song was used in "Random Shoes", an episode of Torchwood in 2006.
- It was heard in Torchwood's parent programme, Doctor Who, in the 2005 episode "Aliens of London", just after the Ninth Doctor gives Rose Tyler a TARDIS key, then is gone.
- The song was also used in the end credits of the television show Life on Mars, played in episode 1 of series 2.
- In the DC comic Starman, the Starman known as Mikaal Tomas inspired the fictional, DC-version of David Bowie to write this song.
- The song was used in the trailer for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
- In the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Dewey Cox sings this song while performing on his variety show.
Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie
, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5