Released: April 13, 1973
Peak: 17 US, 15 UK, 20 CN, 7 AU
Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.3 UK, 5.0 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: glam rock/classic rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Songs written by David Bowie unless indicated otherwise.
Total Running Time: 40:47
4.214 out of 5.00 (average of 27 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“Ziggy Stardust wrote the blueprint for David Bowie's hard-rocking glam,” AMG establishing him as one of the genre’s most important artists. “Aladdin Sane essentially follows the pattern, for both better and worse.” AMG Bowie “had said as much as he wanted to say about Ziggy Stardust, [but] he knew he’d end up doing ‘Ziggy Part 2.” WK
Like its predecessor, this album introduced a new persona – Aladdin Sane (a pun on “a lad insane”) – which Bowie describes as “Ziggy Stardust goes to America.” WK Biographer Christopher Sanford said the album showed Bowie “was simultaneously appalled and fixated by America.” WK
The cover art was shot by Brian Duffy. It was the most expensive cover art ever made at the time. WK It became, according to author Nicholas Pegg, “perhaps the most celebrated image of Bowie’s long career.” WK The Guardian’s Mick McCann called it “the Mona Lisa of album covers.” WK
Lyrically, the album paints “pictures of urban decay, dengenerate lives, drug addiction, violence, and death.” WK Musically, it featured Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, and Mick Woodmansey, who’d backed Bowie on Ziggy. Pianist Mike Garson was also added to the mix, which allowed for “a stranger album than its predecessor” AMG thanks to his “bizarre lounge-jazz flourishes and a handful of winding, vaguely experimental songs.” AMG “The jazzy, dissonant sprawls of Lady Grinning Soul, Aladdin Sane, and Time…manage to be both campy and avant-garde simultaneously.” AMG The title cut was inspired by Evely Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies. Bowie used the song to explore more experimental genres beyond rock and roll. “Time” was first recorded in mid-1971 and then reworked after the death of Billy Murcia, the drummer for the New York Dolls, to be about relativity and mortality. WK
The Prettiest Star was also a reworked song. Bowie originally recorded it in 1970 as the follow-up single to “Space Oddity.” He wrote it for his first wife Angela Barnett. It featured Marc Bolan on guitar. The version on Aladdin Sane featured Mick Ronson mimicking Bolan almost note for note. WK
Bowie also re-recorded a sax version of John, I’m Only Dancing which was intended to be the closing track. However, it was replaced by “Lady Grinning Soul,” which has been described as a lost James Bond theme. WK The revamped version of “John” eventually saw release as a single in 1979 and was added to reissues of Aladdin Sane.
The album also manages to have “a tougher, rawer and edgier rock sound.” WK “Bowie abandons his futuristic obsessions to concentrate on the detached cool of New York and London hipsters, as on the compressed rockers Watch That Man, Cracked Actor, and The Jean Genie.” AMG Bowie wrote “Watch That Man” after seeing the New York Dolls. Pegg described it as “a sleazy garage rocker” influenced by the Rolling Stones, specifically “Brown Sugar.” WK “Cracked Actor” was in response to the prostitution and drug use he witnessed while staying at Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. WK
“The Jean Genie” was the first song recorded for the album. The guitar riff shows influences of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” It has been described as glam rock, blues rock, and hard rock. WK Bowie called it “a smorgasbord of imagined Americana” WK and said the lyrics were an ode to Iggy Pop. He said the character in the song is a “white-trash, kind of trailer-park kid thing – the closet intellectual who wouldn’t want the world to know that he reads.” WK
Bowie went a step farther in an homage to the Stones with his cover of Let’s Spend the Night Together. “While the original was psychedelic, Bowie’s rendition is faster, raunchier, and more glam-influenced.” WK It has been criticized as “camp and unsatisfying” WK but its appearance “blatantly acknowledges the influence of the Stones on the entire album.” WK
“The sweepingly cinematic Drive-In Saturday is a soaring fusion of sci-fi doo wop and melodramatic teenage glam.” AMG Pegg says it is “arguably the finest track” on the album. WK Bowie wrote it on an overnight train ride from Seattle to Phoenix. He saw a row of silver domes which he assumed to be government facilities for a post-nuclear fallout. Bowie conceived the idea of radiation affecting people to the point that they had to watch films to learn how to have sex again. WK
He lets his paranoia slip through in the clenched rhythms of Panic in Detroit.” AMG The song was inspired by stories from Iggy Pop about the 1967 Detroit riots. Bowie compared John Sinclair, the leader of the White Panther Party, to rebel martyr Che Guevara. WK
As far as critique of the album, All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine said “there’s a wealth of classic material here” AMG but “no distinctive sound or theme to make the album cohesive.” AMG Billboard called it “raw energy with explosive rock.” WK Let It Rock magazine said the album was more style than substance.
On the other hand, Phonograph Record’s Ron Ross said Bowie proved himself to be “one of the most consistent and fast-moving artists since the Beatles.” WK NME’s Charles Shaar Murray called it “a worthy contribution to the most important body of musical work produced in this decade.” WK
Notes: In 2003, EMI released a 30th Anniversary Edition which adds a second disc which has the single “John, I’m Only Dancing,” along with single mixes of “The Jean Genie” and “Time.” Also included are Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” and live versions of “Changes,” “The Supermen,” “Life on Mars?,” (all three of which were originally featured in studio version on Hunky Dory), “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “The Jean Genie,” and “Drive-In Saturday.”
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First posted 2/20/2008; last updated 7/30/2021.
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