David Bowie Rock ‘N’ Roll Star Review: Five-disc dive into Ziggy Stardust shines new light on Bowie’s greatest creation

The mother of all rock’n’roll fantasies, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, is given all-encompassing deluxe box set treatment.

David Bowie 1972

by Mark Paytress  |
Updated on

David Bowie

Rock ’N’ Roll Star!



After endless reissues, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars returns under cover of Rock ’N’ Roll Star!, a 5-CD, one audio-only Blu-Ray, two-book box set. It closes in October 1972 at Boston on the first US tour. But it’s where it begins that’s the real bombshell.

Likely guided by the hand of Bowie, who watched over his archive, the entire Ziggy Stardust escapade – song, album, live show, get-out-of-jail alter ego – can now be traced back to one stridently strummed acoustic demo sketched out in February 1971 in a San Francisco hotel room. Titled So Long ’60s, its chords and melody are instantly recognisable as Moonage Daydream. The lyric is roughly the “Keep your mouth shut” verse sung twice, before bidding “So long, Jimi”. (Hendrix, the left-handed superstar guitarist who died five months earlier, is long regarded as an inspiration for Ziggy.) This surprise find is Bowie’s ‘good riddance’ message to the decade that refused to take him seriously. “So long, decline,” he concludes.

So Long ’60s is Bowie’s tabula rasa, one that enables him to introduce a more playful sound and attitude that would serve him well in a post-Bolan era. But it took almost a year for the fictional rock star’s rise and fall to develop into a loose storyline-driven album.

The best of Rock ‘N’ Roll Star!’s 29 unreleased cuts appear on Disc 1 which is split into three parts: Songwriting Demos, Arnold Corns and Haddon Hall Rehearsals. After the initial shock, we’re on familiar territory with Hang On To Yourself, also taped during Bowie’s promotional visit to the States. This previously bootlegged cut doesn’t feature Gene Vincent as rumoured. But it does find Bowie hitching his mast to upbeat rock’n’roll, part Eddie Cochran, part Velvet Underground.

Back home and motivated, he quickly assembles a bunch of nobodies, names them Arnold Corns and reworks the two US demos. It’s clearly an attempt to emulate Andy Warhol’s Svengali role with the Velvets, only Bowie also writes and sings. He introduces a new, strained, high-camp squealer voice, sung incognito for fear his outgoing record company might lay claim to the songs. One of the hallmarks of Ziggy’s style was born out of necessity.

By March, he’s demo-ing Lady Stardust on piano and Ziggy Stardust (with its distinctive riff already intact) on guitar. Another demo, the previously unheard piano-rocker Star (aka Stars) likely taped in May, confirms that a Ziggy and Star theme was already materialising by late spring. Nevertheless, he hands the song to a band called Chameleon, whose recording still knocks about. Unfortunately, it’s not here.

By June, now with Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey back after a year’s absence along with fellow Hull renegade Trevor Bolder on bass, Bowie’s about to record Hunky Dory. But an Arnold Corns follow-up is contractually obliged, so despite losing interest, he writes a relaxed, Stones-style singalong Looking For A Friend before work on Hunky Dory takes over.

Disc 1 concludes with previously unheard rehearsals taped at the band’s communal-like HQ Haddon Hall in early November, days before going into the studio to record Ziggy. Bowie met Lou Reed and Iggy Pop in New York weeks earlier while signing a deal with RCA and is now clearly on a mission. Soul Love and Ziggy Stardust sound ready to go; Star (knowingly?) steals the drum pattern from Hendrix’s I Don’t Live Today; Holy Holy (a revamp of Bowie’s flop 45 from late 1970) and the gleefully filthy Sweet Head were also studio recorded but later dropped.

A solo demo of Soul Love, placed earlier on Disc 1, also dates from this time. This comes with illuminating instructions from Bowie to Mick Ronson concerning the arrangement. It’s followed by a verse/chorus snippet, then a full acoustic demo of Starman taped in January 1972. Written to order as ‘the hit’, Starman sounds remarkably assured, though Bowie’s slide guitar overdub is ‘exploratory’.

Discs 2 and 3 are essential if familiar, given they document sessions taped for the BBC, from an unreleased January 1972 Peel session to the version of Starman taped for Top Of The Pops in July. The ‘found’ session – off-air and still missing Hang On To Yourself – includes the roaring Velvet Underground homage Queen Bitch from the just-released Hunky Dory and one Velvets original, Waiting For The Man. Both bolster Bowie’s new contrary aesthetic.

Inevitably, there’s repetition here as on previous set Divine Symmetry, which journeyed through Hunky Dory. The first half of Disc 4 comprises single mixes and previously released outtakes; the second features the five surviving tracks from the October 1, 1972 show in Boston, USA, with My Death the only official newcomer.

By contrast, everything on Disc 5 is fresh to this box. Most are either outtakes or alternative versions remixed by original engineer Ken Scott. The key curio is Shadow Man, presented here as a composite from two different Ziggy sessions takes, with Scott aptly adding reverb. One line, “The shadow man is really you”, anticipates the unfolding Bowie/Ziggy relationship. Perhaps it’s why he didn’t want the song on the album…

While Scott’s new mixes sparkle, the 2012 Ziggy Stardust album master dug out for the Blu-Ray seems a misstep given that Atmos is an industry standard now. Plenty more fun is Waiting In The Sky (Before The Starman Came To Earth). It’s taken from the original December 15, 1971 master and features the original Ziggy running-order, including four songs that didn’t make the final cut. Two accompanying books flesh out the package. One is a 36-page repro of Bowie’s Ziggy-era notebooks featuring handwritten lyrics, track-listings, sketches and a curious reference to ‘Emile And The Feel’. The main 112-page book is packed with track info, original reviews, interviews old and new plus plenty of period memorabilia and photos.

A headline used regularly around the time of Ziggy’s release in June 1972 was ‘A STAR IS BORN’. Well, Starman hit Number 10; the album Number 5. Nevertheless, Bowie quickly became the most talked-about performer in Britain because the entire project, from the music to the ideas Bowie attached to it, marked a genuine shift from pop’s past. There’s no doubt that with Ziggy Stardust, Bowie achieved what he’d set out to do: ta-ta ’60s. You betcha!

David Bowie Rock ‘N’ Roll Star! is out June 14 on Parolophone

BUY: Amazon | Rough Trade | HMV


Disc One

So Long 60s (San Francisco Hotel recording) *

Hang On To Yourself (early demo) *

Lady Stardust (demo)

Ziggy Stardust (demo)

Star (Aka Stars) (demo) *

Soul Love (demo and DB spoken notes) *

Starman (demo 1 excerpt) *

Starman (demo 2) *

Moonage Daydream (The Arnold Corns version)

Hang On To Yourself (The Arnold Corns version)

Looking For A Friend (The Arnold Corns version – rough mix) *

Haddon Hall Rehearsals Segue: Ziggy Stardust / Holy Holy / Soul Love *

Star (Aka Stars) (Haddon Hall rehearsal) *

Sweet Head (Haddon Hall rehearsal) *

Disc Two

Sounds Of The 70s: John Peel

(Recorded January 11, 1972. Broadcast January 28, 1971)

Ziggy Stardust *

Queen Bitch *

Waiting For The Man *

Lady Stardust *

Sounds Of The 70s: Bob Harris

(Recorded January 18, 1972. Broadcast February 1972)

Hang On To Yourself

Ziggy Stardust

Queen Bitch

Waiting For The Man

Five Years

Old Grey Whistle Test

(Filmed February 7, 1972. Broadcast February 8, 1972. Except Oh! You Pretty Things which wasn’t broadcast until 1982)

Oh! You Pretty Things (take 1)

Queen Bitch

Five Years

Disc Three

Sounds Of The 70s: John Peel

(Recorded May 16, 1972. Broadcast May 23, 1972)

White Light/White Heat

Moonage Daydream

Hang On To Yourself

Suffragette City

Ziggy Stardust

Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Show

(Recorded May 22, 1972. Broadcast 5-9 June, 1972)


Space Oddity


Oh! You Pretty Things

Sounds Of The 70s: Bob Harris

(Recorded May 23, 1973. Broadcast June 19, 1972)

Andy Warhol

Lady Stardust

White Light/White Heat

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide

Top Of The Pops

(Filmed July 54, 1972. Broadcast July 6, 1972)


Disc Four

Round And Round

The Supermen (Ziggy session version)

Holy Holy (Ziggy session version)

Velvet Goldmine (Ziggy session outtake)

Starman (original single mix)

John, I’m Only Dancing (original single version)

Recorded Live At The Music Hall, Boston, October 1, 1972

The Supermen


Life On Mars?

My Death *

John, I’m Only Dancing

Disc Five

Looking For A Friend (The Arnold Corns version 2022 mix) *

Hang On To Yourself (early Ziggy session take) *

Star (take 5 alternative version) *

Lady Stardust (take 1 alternative version) *

Shadow Man (Ziggy session version) *

The Supermen (Ziggy session version 2023 Mix) *

Holy Holy (Ziggy session version alternative mix) *

Round And Round (alternative mix)

It’s Gonna Rain Again (Ziggy session outtake) *

Looking For A Friend (Ziggy session version) *

Velvet Goldmine (Ziggy sessions outtake 2022 mix) *

Sweet Head (Ziggy sessions outtake 2022 mix) *

Starman (Top Of The Pops version 2022 mix)

John, I’m Only Dancing (alternative Trident Studios version) *

I Can’t Explain (Trident Studios version) *

Bonus Mix

Moonage Daydream (2003 instrumental mix)


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Picture: Masayoshi Sukita

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