The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #193: Starman by David Bowie (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #193: Starman by David Bowie.

“Starman” by David Bowie is an important and popular song. It was written for Bowie’s classic album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972. It is the song that many people claim as being the one that “broke” David Bowie as a star performer. It is important to note that, as of the release the “Ziggy Stardust” album, Bowie really had had only one hit to his name, that being, “Space Oddity” so, his pedigree as a writer/singer/performer had not yet become fully-formed. At the same time as he was recording the songs for “Ziggy Stardust”, he was also recording an album called, “Hunky Dory”. The executives at Bowie’s record company didn’t think that the songs on “Hunky Dory” would translate well for live performances so, he was challenged to create something that was “tour-worthy”. Bowie accepted the challenge and ended up creating one of the greatest characters in Rock History, one of the first great Glam Rock albums, as well as, introducing the idea of androgyny and the fluidity of sexual orientation to the mainstream world.

In order to properly discuss the song, “Starman”, it is important to, first, discuss the album from which it came. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” is a concept album that tells the story of an androgynous, bisexual rock star (Bowie) who is sent to Earth to save it from destruction. Bowie is said to have based the character of “Ziggy Stardust” as a conbination of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Vince Taylor. The “Spiders From Mars” were the members of his backing band who included, Mick Ronson (on guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass guitar) and Woody Woodmansey (on drums). Over the course of his career, David Bowie regularly created rock personnas who were visually striking. In the case of “Ziggy Stardust”, Bowie coloured his hair bright red and made it spiky. He wore white nail polish, as he played a blue acoustic guitar. His outfit was brightly hued, as well. Overall, his appearance was flamboyant and helped create a new genre of rock that came to be known as “Glam Rock”.

The song, “Starman” is about a messenger who is sent to Earth to contact the youth of the world to let them know that they are the chosen ones and that they have the power to make things right, through music. The song is an upbeat, hopeful song and was well-received when it was released. But, what helped to elevate “Starman” above the ranks of all the other songs that were out there, competing for attention, was Bowie’s appearance on the TV show, “The Top of the Pops” on the BBC. This was the first time that most viewers had seen Bowie (and the Spiders From Mars) in their new outfits. During the performance (which you will see in the video below), Bowie prances around the stage, almost flirting with guitarist, Mick Ronson. Tens of thousands of young, impressionable viewers like Bono (from U2), Robert Smith (from The Cure) and Noel Gallagher (from Oasis) were electrified as they watched Bowie breaking down sexual and social barriers live on TV in their own living rooms. No one had seen anything like it before. It took the UK by storm. In fact, all who saw it point to a moment where Bowie, in character, speaks of making contact via the telephone with someone “like you”; pointing directly at the tv camera as he speaks….as being the galvanizing moment for the youth of the UK because, to a person, they all felt seen. It was like Bowie was speaking directly to them. It was a huge moment in David Bowie’s career; one that propelled him forward into the ranks of the superstars. To add one further element to the mix; Bowie based the way he sings the word, “Starman” on the way Judy Garland sang the word, “Somewhere” when she sang, “Over the Rainbow”. He stresses the second syllable, raising his voice one octave, just as Graland did. That both characters are going somewhere “beyond” is an added detail that links both songs and goes to show you the extraordinary details Bowie incorporated into this work.

That the song, “Starman” is a rousing, soaring song only added to the glory of the moment for fans. But, it was a moment that was to leave a lasting impression….even today. You may recall that a few short years ago, entrepeneur, Elon Musk, launched his first test rocket into space. One of the most visually-striking aspects of this launch was that Musk, also, launched one of his electric Tesla automobiles into space as well. Included in the car was a mannequin dressed as an astronaut who was dubbed, “Starman”. As the Tesla assumed orbit in space, Bowie’s song began to play creating, what some have described, as the most beautiful and expensive music video of all time. *(I will include that clip below, too). Finally, if you have children or grand-children who are fans of the “Toy Story” movie franchise, you may know that there is a new movie set for Christmas release that details the origin story of one of the main characters, “Buzz Lightyear”. In the trailer for the movie, the song “Starman” is used to soundtrack the clip. Needless to say, a new generation of children are about to fall in love with Bowie’s transformational song about the youth of the world saving it from destruction. Maybe they will become empowered by Bowie’s words, too.

In any case, buckle up and get ready for one of most memorable songs from one of the most memorable characters from one of the most memorable Glam Rock albums of all-time. Here is David Bowie, starring as Ziggy Stardust, singing “Starman” from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”.


The link to the video for the song, “Starman” by David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Starman”, as used by Elon Musk, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Starman”, as used in the new Buzz Lightyear movie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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