David Bowie, The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust... (1972)

I think it was around 8th grade, at the end of the 70s, when I bought a cassette copy of the Changesonebowie collection.  I don't remember exactly why; I think I'd heard "Space Oddity" on the radio and was pretty blown away by this Bowie guy.

It was one of those revelatory purchases you are fortunate to stumble across every now and then.  I couldn't quite fathom that the same guy was responsible for every song on the album.  It sounded more like a K-Tel collection (20 amazing dynamic hits! 20 original artists!), every song completely different.  (And the collection, from 1976, came out before some of his best work, like "Heroes" and "Sound and Vision," and omitted personal favorites like "Queen Bitch" and "Life on Mars.")

Given the variety of music on the collection, it was a little hard to decide where to start when I decided to delve into the Bowie catalog.  I ended up going with the Ziggy Stardust album, as "Suffragette City" and the title track were two of the more instantly compelling tunes on the Changes compilation; plus, being a 13-year-old kid without a lot of spending money, I was largely dependent on the albums I could check out of the local library, and they fortuitously had a cassette copy of Ziggy.  And, no need to state the obvious, it was great.  From the opening, stuttering drumbeat of "Five Years" I was totally sucked in, trying to parse the somewhat muddled narrative but finding every song uniquely great.  "Starman" sounded like the coolest song in the world, right up until I got to "Hang On To Yourself," which was even better.

But the weird thing about that tape is that it sounded kinda quiet and muffled; then, partway through side two, in the middle of the rousing "Star," the volume ratcheted up and the sound came blasting through the speakers.  I thought it was an interesting aesthetic choice by Bowie.  Was he trying to alert listeners that the narrative of the album was reaching a climax? That we were about to enter an epic run of amazing songs?  I wasn't clear, but it just added to the mystery that surrounded Bowie.

Of course, years later when I bought the CD, I realized that the library had a defective cassette and the weird volume change wasn't supposed to be there.  Still, even today, I'm in the habit of twisting the volume knob when I get to the second half of the album.  It just seems better that way.

Here's a little live "Suffragette City":
And some "Starman":




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