David Bowie By the Threes: A 50-Year Retrospective, Part 1
1973: Bowie Hits it Big
1973 was perhaps the most successful year of Bowie's career. In '73, Bowie had just released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars a year earlier and it kicked off a seemingly endless string of hits throughout the days to come. Not only was Ziggy Stardust charting for two years straight, peaking at No. 5, but his previous record, Hunky Dory, had re-entered the charts, despite being unsuccessful upon its release.
A lot of this had to do with a Top of the Pops performance where Bowie introduced the Ziggy Stardust character to the world at large. People were captivated by his bizarre appearance and his unique and catchy music. In '73, Bowie would take Ziggy on the road for most of the year, thrilling crowds and producing a widely acclaimed concert film.
1973 also produced two records: Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups. Aladdin Sane ended up being, in Bowie's own words, "Ziggy goes to America." The songs were written on the road in the U.S. and reflected the distinct flavor of Ziggy Stardust mixed in with the American rock landscape of the time.
It was a harder album, and also began to show some of the wear and tear that drugs, the road, and the Ziggy persona was having on Bowie. This especially stands out in my pick for the best track from this record: "Cracked Actor," which was what Bowie had come to see himself as.
The other record, Pin Ups, was a forgettable and disastrous cover album. Though it managed to net Bowie a hit in the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together," it was the end result of Bowie being overproductive and overambitious in a time when he was in a fragile mental and physical state.
It had to come to a head at some point, and in 1973 Bowie finally "killed" the Ziggy Stardust character, putting on one last Ziggy performance before moving on with his life and his career.
Outside the narrative of Bowie's career were two other bizarre hits that occurred in 1973. Though Hunky Dory failed to capture audiences in its initial release, it was charting again as mentioned above. Record labels chose to re-release "Life On Mars?" as a single that year and it ended up being a major hit and one of Bowie's most beloved songs.
On the other hand, the label decided to re-release an old novelty song Bowie had recorded in the '60s as well, titled "The Laughing Gnome." It became a hit in '73 as well, perhaps selling on Bowie's name alone, but it has long been considered an odd embarrassment to the artist.
Regardless, Bowie ended out the year as the UK's best-selling artist, with six different albums charting at once.