David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1983)

So, where were the Spiders?

“Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is a documentary and concert film by D. A. Pennebaker that covers the last concert of the Ziggy era. It was the show where Bowie famously “retired”…

“Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”

The ”Five years” mega box consists of seven studio albums as well as two live albums and the first of the “Re:call” albums. The first live album for me to review is the double LP “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture”. This record was released in 1983, ten years after the concert at Hammersmith Odeon on July 3rd 1973.

I saw the concert film when I was younger and found it bewildering. The film is interesting and could justify its own review, but now let’s focus on the soundtrack album. The sound quality is very good, absolutely no problem there. However, I have always thought that Bowie is one of those artists who are best on studio albums. There may be some exceptions to this of course.

The Spiders from Mars are ok but as I have said before I am not totally sold on the too sharp sound of Mick Ronson’s guitar. Sure, the band can rock, and it is great sometimes, but how many of the live versions beat the studio versions straight up? I like live records that give us new and improved versions of old favourites.

The set list is at least interesting with a mix of Ziggy Stardust from both Ziggy and Aladdin Sane as well as some older tracks and a few covers. Curiously enough the film and record omit three songs that they performed with Jeff Beck as a guest (“The Jean Genie/Love Me Do” and “Round and Round”). That is a pity.

The first side includes a very nice medley of “Wild eyed boy from Freecloud”, “All the young dudes” and “Oh! You pretty things”. The second side give us a rock version of “Moonage daydream” with a new intro to the song. “Changes” is quite nice, and “Space oddity” is in full bloom. The cover “My death” written by Brel concludes the first part of the show, and the first LP. It is a contrast to the loud rockers. This one is slow and pensive.

The third side, side C, is dominated by a very good version of “Time” from “Aladdin Sane”. But “Time” is always great, you can’t go wrong with that song. The side is dominated by the 15-minute version of “The width of a circle”. This is great, I love those long confusing songs you know, but I think it may be polarizing. The Spiders really come to life in the extended instrumental part, they get into a groove I love. Almost like Crazy Horse backing Neil!

The last side gives us two classics from Ziggy and two rough covers; Stones’ “Let’s spend the night together” and velvet Underground’s “White light/white heat”. I am not a big fan of the covers Bowie insist on doing mostly. Of these two the Lou Reed song trumps the Mick Jagger one. But the most interesting thing is of course the last song with the classic intro. Imagine having been there in the audience. Many youngsters actually believed that David himself was retiring from the scene. It was only Ziggy, the act, that retired. I am sure I would have fallen for it. I would have cried.

My rating: 7/10

Side A:

  1. Introduction (incorporating Beethoven’s ninth symphony)
  2. Hang on to yourself
  3. Ziggy Stardust
  4. Watch that man
  5. Wild eyed boy from Freecloud
  6. All the young dudes
  7. Oh! You pretty things

Side B:

  1. Moonage daydream
  2. Changes
  3. Space oddity
  4. My death (cover of the Jaques Brel song)

Side C:

  1. Introduction (incorporating William Tell overture)
  2. Cracked actor
  3. Time
  4. The width of a circle

Side D:

  1. Let’s spend the night together (cover of the Rolling Stones song)
  2. Suffragette City
  3. White light/White heat (cover of the Velvet Underground song)
  4. Farewell speech
  5. Rock ‘n’ roll suicide

Best live versions: The “Wild eyed boy from Freecloud/All the young dudes/Oh! You pretty things”-medley, “Space oddity”, “Time” and “The width of a circle”

Produced by: David Bowie, Mike Moran and Tony Visconti (2003 remaster)

Media: 2003 remaster, 180 gram vinyl, reissued in 2015 part of the Five years (1969-1973) box

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