David Bowie: The 1970's

Hunky Dory

In 1969, Bowie met his first wife Angela Barnett. They were married within a year and she had an influence on the business side of Bowie's career. For starters, Bowie left his manager at the time, Ken Pitt, and replaced his current drummer for Mick Woodmansey, who performed on the Bowie's third album (under his new name) entitled The Man Who Sold the World, which was released in 1970. The music had a much more rock 'n roll sound that resembled Bowie's earlier works he released as Davie Jones. Following this release, and with recent success with the single "Space Oddity," Mercury Records gave Bowie the opportunity to have an American tour. This tour had performance and interviews setup all across the country. It was during this tour that Bowie's alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, began to develop. His androgynous appearance began to pick up media attention and the gift of an album by Legendary Stardust Cowboy provided Bowie with all the necessary ingredients to create the persona of Ziggy stardust. However, he would not present his new alter ego the world until the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

In 1971, Bowie and Barnett had their first child, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones. The same year Bowie released his fourth album under his new name entitled Hunky Dory. The style of the album was reminiscent to that of "Space Oddity," and paid respect to many influences in Bowies life at the time. The track entitled "Kooks" was written for his new born son. There are tracks entitled "Song for Bob Dylan" and "Andy Warhol" for the American icons. The album, however, was not a huge success at the time, but since then has been considered one of Bowie's more important albums. In 2010, Time Magazine listed Hunky Dory as one of the best albums of all time. Friend, and past rival, George Underwood created the artwork.


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

The successful single "Starman" from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware what they're going through.

‐from "Changes" on Hunky Dory

In 1972, David Bowie finally found a way to connect to the ever-changing pop culture in American and England. Through his new alter ego Ziggy Stardust, Bowie changed the course of Rock-n-Roll. The album, that came out in 1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, was a combination of sci-fi fantasy, theatrical production, character persona, and rock music. The concept is explained by Bowie to Rolling Stone Magazine that Ziggy Stardust was sent to Earth as a messenger of prosperity since the planet only had five more years to live.

Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman… this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save Earth. Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks [of] himself as a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real, because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on [Earth]. And they tear him to pieces onstage during the song "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide."

Ziggy Stardust was the ultimate rock star! He was wild, "well-hung" with a "snow-white tan," delivered a message of hope to planet Earth, and at the core of his character, he was all about peace and love. His androgynous, "omnisexual alien rock star" was a success to the changing pop culture that Bowie implied in his song "Changes" from Hunky Dory. Ziggy and his band toured all over the world using a variety of lighting similar to what is found in theater productions. During this period Bowie use to take his band members out to plays so they could observe the effects the lighting had on the performance.

By 1973, Ziggy Stardust was a bigger success then Bowie could ever have realized. He was beginning to lose his own sense of self through character Ziggy Stardust. Bowie describes "At first, [he] just assumed the character on stage. Then everybody started to treat [him] as they treat Ziggy: as though [he] were the Next Big Thing… [He] became convinced [he] was a messiah. Very scary…" Due to this realization, Bowie ended the character of Ziggy Stardust with a final performance during the summer of 1973. But this was not the end of alter egos and character personas for Bowie. Many more would come later that decade.


"Aladdin" to "Station"

With Bowie's creation of Ziggy Stardust, a new concept of rock and roll had emerged. Glam Rock was the concept of music performances incorporating a storyline, theatrical stage presents, and exaggerated costumes, and Bowie was at the forefront of the movement. With the death of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie turned his attention to a new persona, Aladdin Sane, a darker version of Ziggy stardust, one that has experienced the highs and lows of stardom. Bowie explains to Rolling Stones Magazine:

There was a point in '73 where I knew it was all over. I didn't want to be trapped in this Ziggy Stardust character all my life. And I guess what I was doing on Aladdin Sane, I was trying to move into the next area - but using a rather pale imitation of Ziggy as a secondary device. In my mind, it was Ziggy Goes to Washington: Ziggy under the influence of America.

A much darker version of Ziggy Stardust, the album Aladdin Sane can be summed up with the track "Cracked Actor." Inspired by L.A., "Cracked Actor" sets the tone for the album bringing up topics such as cheap sex, drugs, and washed-up Hollywood actors. But no matter how dark Bowie's lyrics got, his music and image was in the spotlight and his releases were, from here on out, met with favorable criticism. In 2003, Aladdin Sane was ranked in Rolling Stones Magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" at number 277.

Following Aladdin Sane, Bowie released three studio albums from 1973 to 1975. These three albums begin to exhibit the influence of funk and soul music. During this time Bowie also became addicted to cocaine, and as a result, his music and identity were affected. The first of the three albums, Pin Ups was reminiscent to his earlier rock and roll days. This album was comprised of all covers from the mid-1960's. In 1974, Bowie moved to American and released Diamond Dogs, a concept album about a post-apocalyptic futuristic city. In Bowie's words, the setting was "teen punks on rusty skates living on roofs of the dystopian Hungry City - a post-apocalyptic landscape." This album was also considered the soundtrack to George Orwell's 1984.This album began to incorporated funk and soul elements, such as in the title track "Diamond Dogs." It wasn't until his release of Young Americans that Bowie's new incorporation of funk and soul gave rise to the term "plastic soul" as a way to describe the adoption of an African American music styles by white rock and roll artists. The track "Fame," which was co-written by John Lennon, was Bowie's first single to top the US charts. Before then, Bowie's singles and albums were frequently in the top ten, but never reaching number one.

In 1975, Bowie relocated to Los Angeles in hopes to become a movie star. During this time, Bowie was using a lot of cocaine and there was tension with his wife, Angie. The following year, Bowie released a new alter ego, The Thin White Duke, with the release of Station to Station. Based on a character Bowie played on the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which was released the same year (1976), The Thin White Duke was a "nasty character," according to Bowie, wearing a white shirt, black pants and a vest, a very bland costume in comparison to his earlier personas. Station to Station was a huge success and was his highest charting record in the US up until his release of The Next Day in 2013. However, The Thin White Duke was making a bad name for Bowie. In interviews, Bowie discussed how Hitler was the ultimate rock star, and "Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader," which in turn, led to Rock Against Racism movements. Later, Bowie would blame these controversial statements on The Thin White Duke, but critics believe that the drug abuse could of had a lot to do with Bowie's behavior. In 1997, Bowie told Q Magazine that "[he] listens to Station to Station as a piece of work by an entirely different person."

The successful single "Fame" from Young Americans
The successful single "Golden Years" from Station to Station

The Berlin Trilogy


In 1976, Bowie left the United States in hopes to clean himself of his drug addiction. He first relocated to Switzerland but ultimately decided upon in West Berlin, Germany where he spent several years working on three albums with Brian Eno that has been dubbed the Berlin Trilogy. Bowie became very interested in contemporary art and classical music. He painted, sketched, and collected various post-modernist art pieces, much of which influenced his 1977 release Low. The music on Low was quite different then anything he had done before. With the incorporation of electronics, Bowie had essentially created an art-rock album. The music was abstract and minimalistic, lyrics were sporadic and seemed to be apart of the musical textures as opposed to the forefront of the composition. Bowie's record label, RCA, was not convinced that there would be any success with the album. Bowie's ex-manager tried to prevent the album from being released, however, the album, once released, had great success in Europe. In 1992, minimalistic composer Philip Glass called Low "a work of genius." Glass wrote two symphonies inspired by Bowie's Berlin Trilogy albums, Symphony No. 1 "Low" and Symphony No. 4 "Heroes", which was Bowie's second album of the Berlin Trilogy, released a year later. Of Bowie's music, Glass stated "[he created] fairly complex pieces of music, masquerading as simple pieces."


The album Heroes came out in 1977 and was similar in ambient nature to that of Low, but with the incorporation of rock with guitarist Robert Fripp, member of prog-rock band King Crimson. It had favorable reviews and in 1978 Bowie took the two albums on a world tour, performing 70 concerts in 12 countries for close to a million people total. Following the tour, Bowie released the final album of the trilogy in 1979 entitled, Lodger. Very similar to the pervious two, Lodger was incorporated even more guitar and drum rock and roll sounds, similar to his previously recorded material before the Berlin Trilogy.


By the end of 1979, Bowie and his wife Angie were having trouble with their marriage and decided to get divorced. By 1980, and with several court hearings, the two were divorced.

"Warszawa" from Low