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David Bowie And The 1970s

Ziggy Stardust, high persona, and a new biography of David Bowie.

David Bowie applies his makeup. (R. Bamber/Rex Features/Courtesy Everett Collection)

David Bowie applies his makeup. (R. Bamber/Rex Features/Courtesy Everett Collection)

David Jones, born 1947, became David Bowie. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, messenger from Mars. Starman. And a whole lot more.

In the 1970s, one-of-a-kind rocker David Bowie was the one who walked away from the 1960s utopianism. Went surreal. Went space. Went glam. Went omni-sexual. Fantasy. Strange. Painted his face. Put on the spandex. And ran all over the cosmos.

This hour, On Point: a new biography looks at David Bowie, the master of persona, and the 1970s.

- Tom Ashbrook


Peter Doggett, music critic and cultural historian.  Author of “The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie & the 1970s.”

Earl Slick, guitarist who has played with David Bowie on several albums.  He’s also worked with John Lennon, Robert Smith, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and many more.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Washington Post “Doggett convincingly argues that Bowie was the emblematic performer of the 1970s in much the same way the Beatles and Rolling Stones were emblematic of the 1960s. That Bowie didn’t share their universal acclaim is more than made up for, Doggett argues, by his managing to stay relevant even as punk rock and disco relegated the classic rockers to the status of dinosaurs toward the end of the decade.”

New York Daily News “Where Jagger was still coy about his own sexual preferences, Bowie made no effort to conceal the fact that both he and his wife were bisexual and often shared partners. ‘Mick looked at David and wondered if maybe this was the wave of the future,’ said Leee Black Childers, former executive vice president of MainMan, the management firm that handled Bowie. ‘Mick was very conscious of doing whatever it takes to stay hot; David was the hottest thing around at the time.’”

Excerpt: “The Man Who Sold The World”

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.



Ziggy Stardust (1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)

Space Oddity [Demo Version] (1969, Space Oddity 40th Anniversary Edition)

The Man Who Sold The World (1970, The Man Who Sold the World)

Changes [LIVE] (1972, Aladdin Sane 30th Anniversary Edition)


Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide [LIVE] (1973, Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack)

John, I’m Only Dancing [LIVE] (1972, Santa Monica ’72)

Young Americans (1975, Young Americans)

Golden Years (1975, Station To Station)

Fame [LIVE] (1976, Live on Soul Train)


Sound And Vision (1977, Low)

Joe The Lion (1977, Heroes)

Fashion (1980, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps))

Rebel Rebel (1974, Diamond Dogs)


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    No disrespect to Earl Slick, but you HAVE TO talk about the late great Mic Ronson and Tony Visconti and how their musical talents produced some really special music. WOW! 
    Did David B. come into sessions with fully realized songs? Or did Mic and Tony really collaborate? Cheers form Montreal.

    • tmt6

      Huh?  Another conspiracy theorist who thinks Bowie didn’t  write the music.  Read Rick Wakeman’s (or producer Ken Scott’s) account of how Hunky Dory was made.  Wakemen and Scott both completely dismiss your innuendo.

      I spoke at length with Adrian Belew, guitarist on Lodger who worked with Bowie and Visconti on Lodger.  He scoffs at people like you who try to diminish Bowie in this way.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

        smoke a bowl my man, no innuendo here. You have issues. The musical triumvirate of Bowie, Ronson and Visconti is what interests me. Did Bowie have all the soundscapes predetermined or did Ronson have carte blanche, etc. that is all. The creative process intrigues me, that is all.

        • tmt6

          Sorry, Joe.  I misunderstood your comment.  A few years ago at a q&a with photographer Mick Rock (photographer extraordinaire of Ziggy era Bowie), there were some punks who kept insisting that the music was written by everyone from Angie, Iggy, Ronson, Visconti — well, you get the picture.  Mick Rock just thought it was all such a joke, commenting that Bowie’s originality is such that no one could believe the same guy who wrote the album Ziggy Stardust could also write, say, Low.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000190055630 William Villa

      So true!  Mic Ronson on “Moonage Daydream!”

  • jim_thompson

    This segemnt is just another reason why I love you and your show Tom, NPR and WBUR.  Growing up a rocker in rough and tumble Lawrence, Ma during the 70s(and secretly gay) it was so thrilling to have David Bowie come along.  A master of entertainment.  I have three live albums at the top of my list for listening…Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall and both of David Bowie’s live recordings.  Those should be the top three on anyone’s list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.f.roy Larry Corbett

    My ten-year old niece LOVES Bowie.  That blows my mind. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Younger folks probably remember him more from
    Labyrinth – great movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1471658025 Ike McMahon

    The soundtrack of my youth :)

  • J__o__h__n
  • nj_v2

    Notable omission from the “Playlist.” With Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays:


  • dubioushamster

    david Bowie is a friend for ALL occasions

  • hirsutefruit

    around 10am, in the background there was a really neat song playing. does anyone know what song this was? how do i find out? it was while the show host was talking, and it was at a break, right when they were introducing the david bowie portion. i am pretty sure it was a pop song not by bowie, but another artist. desperately trying to track it down.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000190055630 William Villa

      They have a play list listed above.  Will that help?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000190055630 William Villa

      Foolow up.  Not sure how old you are.  However, Bowie has been recorded my many over the years.  The song you may be referring to is the “Man who sold the World” which was also recorded by Nirvana in the 90′s.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    One thing that just so added to the early Bowie looks was his eye injury that keeps one pupil dilated. Photos of him with the stage lights on him just look so weird – which was perfect.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Rolling Stones – Goats Head Soup – Dancing with Mister D – it does not take much imagination to consider what that song was about.

  • dubioushamster

    bowie lives his life as if he is still figuring it all out.  How exhilirating to view such an honest attempt at raw existence in a modern day human being. promoting the understanding that NO one has to be alienated

  • Jennifer Casasanto

    Many big artists begin to embody or become the face of an era for their fans, and then as the fans grow up or enter another phase of their life they grow out of an artist. Bowie purposefully never embraced one era or locked himself into one musical style. This allowed fans like I did to find him years after his big 70s era but we are still able to immerse ourselves in many of his messages delivered in a fantastic audio/visual/theatrical/multi-channel way that we connect to today. His catalogue remains relevant and keeps drawing new fans in across cultures and decades and his influence can be seen across many elements of culture today.

  • Amelia Rappaport

    I’ve been a Bowie fan forever, not only because his music is great but because every album tells a different story, and each story could be written by a different author–endlessly engaging.  In an era (the 70′s) when so much popular music–even the really good stuff–was all about love and heartbreak, Bowie was writing songs about fantasy, science fiction, great literature AND human experience.

  • Elevatonous

    My first exposure to Bowie was when I was a child in the 80s through his televised Glass Spider Tour. Since then I’ve discovered the rest of his discography and have been constantly impressed by the quality of what he put out. He was wise to keep moving through the multiple personas that he passed through. It made it so that to embrace his work is to embrace progress and reinvigoration. Going back through his catalog is always fun. Anyone can rock out and anyone can embrace fiction and create fantastic personas, but Bowie transcends them and I believe that is what keeps drawing in younger generations as I have witnessed.

  • snuzzle

    I have a question about the song “Fame”. There is a James Brown song called “Hot(need to be loved)” that is the same musically as “Fame” but with different lyrics and vocal melody.  Did James Brown write it or Bowie? It sounds a lot more like a James Brown type of song… except the lyrics

    • Tesselate

       Bowie and Lennon co-wrote Fame

      • snuzzle

        cool thanks tessalate

    • http://twitter.com/DavidBowieNews David Bowie News

      Bowie, Lennon and rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar wrote ‘Fame’ before James Brown’s ‘Hot’ copied it. Bowie told Alomar they would sue if it became a hit. It didn’t. 

      • snuzzle

        just the info/answer i was hoping for!! thanks so much!!

  • No One Knows

    I grew up in the 80s and found Bowie on the shelves of my parent’s record collection. I wasn’t around for the androgyny and glam times, so never identified with that or the stagecraft or showmanship. But the MUSIC itself was outstanding. Diamonds Dogs and Ziggy Stardust are as good as “London Calling”, or “Velvet Underground”, or Nevermind the Bollocks”
    Those albums belong on any rock fan’s shelf.  

  • Davida Bagatelle

    I was in college in the 70′s with two women who idolized Bowie.  Many of their conversations over dinner were made up of streams of his lyrics, which they had memorized.   Thanks for bringing up that memory

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XN4L5PRIKPRUVAT5WVWV3YR7SQ maria m

    My all time favorite singer/ perfomer!! Have seen a few times and never ever disappoints.Can’t get enough of him. I only wish i had been youth in the 1970′s to have been able to fully take  his music in and danced to his musics in the clubs. I was at least  able to dance to his music during his China Girl days and boy did i wear out my Red shoes and dance to those blues!!! Cheers to you David your music will live on and  on and on and thank God for that!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603037521 Bart Musitano

    Missed all but the last fifteen minutes.  Will the show be archived here at the site? I really want to hear the rest of it.

    • Luke

      Missed all but the last fifteen minutes.  Will the show be archived here at the site? I really want to hear the rest of it.
      I don’t agree with that..

  • Tesselate

    Brilliant topic .. there should be more talk about his contributions!  I forgot to mention when I called in that with the 40th anniv of Ziggy my nephew’s band in LA, Echoes De Luxe, and a few of their friends, hosted by Donovan’s son, performed the whole album at a club venue ..and so it continues …

  • JaMei

    Tom, I’m not a huge Bowie fan but am often struck by the bittersweetness of many of his songs. And never more so than while seeing my daughter and yours get ready for their high school prom this spring, my 1981 prom theme–Bowie’s Ch-ch-ch-changes–echoing in my mind. And again when my daughter sent me the MP3 the following day. Thanks for a great show. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000190055630 William Villa

    I still have the original 1972 Ziggy LP! Also have the 30 th anniversary CD which came out I guess 10 years ago.  Wow. It was a bite strange to hear a story on this August day 40 years later.  I just recently purchased a second turntable that should get me into the next decade and hopefully I’m still playing this LP when it time to say bye.  I know what LP I will have on playing later today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091744903 Tracy Estabrook Boal

    Really excited to listen to this. I’ve been a fan since my teenage years in the mid-80s (which was arguably his creative nadir, but it introduced me to his back catalogue).

    Of course I love Bowie’s music, his voice,  his charisma as a performer, but what I really appreciate in retrospect is that the style-dipping that he engaged in (criticized as shallow or inauthentic by some) inspired me to appreciate and dig deeper into so many artists and genres of music. And of course, he himself inspired so many performers, music trends, and sub-genres, which I enjoy today. 

  • Jareth goblinking

    jareth is my favorite

  • http://twitter.com/trickyniki Niki Luparelli

    Bowie Fans! Check out this show, “A God-Awful Small Affair”- A cabaret tribute to David Bowie! Happening in NYC at the Metropolitan room on Thursday, Sept 6th! http://www.zvents.com/new_york_ny/events/show/273735205-a-god-awful-small-affair-a-cabaret-tribute-to-david-bowie?

  • Roboscouser

    It was marvelous listening on my favorite show about my hero. His contribution to music, fashion, popular culture is unrivaled. Having followed him religiously from my formative years in the late 1970′s in England, his music and presence have been the backdrop for most of my life, all the joys, challenges, heartaches we all face were accompanied in some way with his presence as a source of strength and inspiration in my own life. The huge risks he took with his career, his constant searching for truth and meaning in his own life and his incredibly hard work ethic is something we all strive towards. One of the main reasons he became so successful was he worked harder than anyone else having overcome setbacks and disappointments in his early career. David realized he was brilliant and somehow destined for this role and deserved every sweet moment. Now in my 40s living the American dream in Boston with a family of my own, I do miss the guy since his retirement in 2003 but he seems to enjoy living a life as a father and husband and I wish him well. The music will always remain and I am content now playing a shuffle mix of his tunes while out jogging along the Charles recalling many memories while trying to think out situations I’m dealing with at work or with my teenagers at home…thank you David, you will always be the Man!

  • Helen Howell

    Where is the download link for this program?

  • Will Kleiner

    Still can’t find the link to listen.  please help!
    Also – I went to a Bowie concert in L.A. around 1975.  Started at least 3 hours late and lasted less than 45 minutes.  It was worse than TERRIBLE.  But I still like and respect him and his music.  Anyone can have an off night. 

  • Delevie

    I called WBUR and they said there was a link problem that their techs are looking into.

  • marsmercury

    I saw Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at the first concert in Cleveland in 1972.  Billy Bass from WMMS championed Bowie and had played a lot of Hunky Dory, so when Ziggy Stardust came out, Cleveland was ready.

    Sitting in the second row, I have never been more astonished by a rock concert.

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  • Regular_Listener

    David Bowie – brilliant image, ground-breaking, bisexual, vivid,
    theatrical – but the music lags behind.  I always felt that way about
    him, and the fact that your callers mostly talked about his image backs
    that up.  He did do some fine recordings – probably “Low” was my
    favorite album of his. 

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