Ziggy took it to a whole new level. The philosophical musing and emotion of Hunky Dory mixed with The Man Who Sold the World’s sci-fi storytelling, the acoustic mixed with the rock music, but never sacrificing emotion. His vocal delivery and hooks got even better on this album. I think his previous two albums could be a little wordy at times, especially the former, but it was distilled on this album to absolute perfection. It’s as sing-a-long as Life on Mars?, rocks as hard as The Man Who Sold the World, and it’s no surprise that the album was a classic.
When I was in high school, I loved the album for the sci-fi aspects of it (I was really into fantasy and sci-fi), but now I love it for the way the songs are put together. Soul Love has always been one of my favorites for its killer hip-hop beat and grooviness, even though every time I read about the album it’s never talked about as a highlight.
The same goes for Starman. I was also just getting into Doctor Who at the time (no surprise), and there was someone on YouTube who was making like music videos for each Doctor set to some music, and the Fourth Doctor had Starman. At the time, he was my favorite Doctor, and so this song always reminds me of that kind of charm, wit and recklessness, and really it works almost too well.
It Ain’t Easy also gets a lot of hate. Actually, Bowie’s whole thing of doing a cover on every album gets a lot of hate (and to be honest, usually it’s the worst song on the album, too), but I really like it. It’s hard and fits in with the rest of the weirdness with its lopsided guitar melody and huge chorus. I love the transition b/w verses and chorus, because there’s a sense of anticipation as you know it’s about to explode, because it quiets down right before.
The running time on these songs also makes me so happy. I liked the two minute wham bam thank ya ma’am songs on the 1966 collection of pre-debut songs, and it’s similar here with lots of 2-3 minute songs that pack a punch like the way a great punk song does. Even when the song runs up to four minutes, it’s so streamlined that it slips all the way through as if it were just a minute.
Other than the obvious songs, I’m not sure what the other fan favorites are. Was Lady Stardust a big hit? It’s amazing for me. Bowie is as good singing ballads as he is slick pop jams, and Lady Stardust reminds me of Oh! You Pretty Things with its meandering piano.
I mentioned the choruses on the album early, because jeepers creepers, they are good. I love this kind of simple hook that’s so easy to sing-a-long, too, and Bowie uses simple things like “lalala”, “ooooooh”, “oh yeah”, “hey man”, and the like to amazing effect. That’s definitely part of what made this album such an instant classic. Hang On To Yrself is the perfect example, a really lightweight song that’s so catchy for its no-nonsense guitar and that incredible “oh come on, oh come on” chorus. It’s such an ear worm.
The title track is a show-stopper, and I think a lot of show-stopping numbers are love/hate, because either they work for you or they don’t. It’s the climax of the album, not nearly as lightweight as the songs coming before it, and it kind of stops the album in its tracks. But man, that guitar hook!! When I used to hear this on the radio, I always thought it was cool, but when I got the album and listened to it closely, I could follow the guitar all the way through the drums and “aw yeah”ing, and I started to love it even more. This song makes me want to play guitar so badly.
You can’t talk about this album without talking about Five Years or Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. They’re the perfect opener/closer combo, a call of unity.