The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released in June 1972 by David Bowie and was the album that catapulted Bowie onto the bedroom walls of a million teenagers. It’s based loosely around a story involving an alien that, when explained, sounds a bit rubbish… so don’t pay any attention to the concept, just listen to how good the record still sounds almost 40 years after its release
The photographs for the album cover were taken in January 1972 on a cold, wet night by photographer Brian Ward, who had a studio in Heddon Street (just off Regent Street), London W1. The photo used on the cover was taken outside K. West at 23 Heddon Street, looking south-east towards the centre of the city.The photographs were shot using Royal-X-Pan black and white film and later colourised. The art work was done by Terry Pastor of Main Artery
According to music publisher Brian James, who happened to be working in his office in Heddon Street on that night, and watched the whole process through a window, Bowie arrived in a bustle, with Brian Ward and two ornate-looking girls - cheerfully posed, and then left with the two girls in one direction, while the photographer left in the other
The cover shows the jump-suit-dressed Bowie on a London backstreet looking like he’d just beamed down from another planet. While colourised blue, the jump-suit was actually the green one seen on The Old Grey Whistle Test show earlier in February 1972, and while Bowie’s hair looks yellow (due to the lighting) it was actually light blonde as seen in other outtakes. Many aspects of this album cover helped contribute to the Ziggy-mystique and mood such as the stormy and wet weather (“It was cold and it rained and I felt like an actor…”); Bowie’s lone appearance under a prominent sign that could be interpreted as a ‘Quest’; the cartoon/sci-fi feeling the colourisation gave; and most importantly the equal billing of David Bowie & Ziggy Stardust’s name that suggested that David Bowie WAS Ziggy Stardust (even though he was holding his guitar right-handed).According to Ziggy Stardust writer Mark Paytress - the cover’s setting may well have had its roots in an obscure 1960 British film directed by Michael Powell called “Peeping Tom” about a serial killer (played by Carl Boehm) who films his victims as he kills them. The film outraged viewers and critics alike when it was first released
The prominent K. West sign seen on the cover was the name of a distribution company occupying the 1st Floor in 1972 which shipped animal furs, that no longer trades today. One of current occupiers of Number 23 Heddon Street is a firm of solicitors. In their reception area there are framed pictures of the Ziggy Stardust LP. The K.West sign and the gas-light no longer exist there today. The original K. West sign was taken by a Bowie fan in the early 1980s and it’s believed that its subsequent replacement (a slightly different sign) was auctioned off as a part of a sale of rock & roll memorabilia when the furriers closed. According to Bowie, hundreds of fans have sent him pictures of themselves with their foot on a dustbin under the K.West sign. The gas-light survived the longest but eventually was replaced with kerb mounted street lights. Today an ornamental gas-light fitting has been re-attached to the building as part of London’s inner city renovation
The signs by the door read as as follows:
- Ramar Dresses Ltd 3rd Floor
- International Wool Secretariat
- Cravats Ltd, main entrance,
- T.H. Ferris 2nd Floor
The post office in the background (now The Living Room, W1 bar) was the site of London’s first nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, which opened in 1912. As part of street renovations, in April 1997 a red K series phone box was returned to the street, replacing a modern blue phone box, which in turn had replaced the original phone box featured on the rear cover
The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of ‘Classic Album Cover’ postage stamps issued in January 2010
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