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Music / Aladdin Sane

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"Millions weep a fountain, just in case of sunrise."

"David Bowie is enough to drive 'Aladdin Sane.'"
Tagline from the album's advertising campaign.

Aladdin Sane is the sixth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1973 through RCA Records. A loosely-constructed semi-sequel to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it's been described as "Ziggy goes to America" by Bowie. The Spiders from Mars would be disbanded at the end of the subsequent tour that July, via an infamous impromptu announcement from Bowie that "not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show we'll ever do," the vague wording of which led fans and press to believe for a short while that he himself was quitting the music industry altogether. In reality, he'd keep going all the way until his death in 2016, barring a hiatus from 2006 to 2011.

The character of Ziggy Stardust, meanwhile, was given one last hurrah that fall via "The 1980 Floor Show", an episode of the American variety TV series The Midnight Special that acted as a transition between the speculative sci-fi of the Ziggy character and the urban dystopia of Bowie's forthcoming album Diamond Dogs (Pin Ups was released midway through the performance's taping). Bowie would permanently retire Ziggy immediately after, though maintained elements of the look for another year or so.

The album is probably best known not for any of the music within it but for its cover art, with the front portrait of Bowie with a lightning bolt painted across his face becoming so emblematic of the musician in the decades after Aladdin Sane's release that it became the basis for the "singer" emojis (👨🏼‍🎤 and 👩🏼‍🎤) a few years after Bowie's passing in 2016. That said, the album's music still stands as a critical turning point for Bowie, introducing a number of jazz and art rock influences that would come to define his later output, especially once he dropped the glam act entirely just two years after this album's release. As such, Aladdin Sane sound-wise is much more of a Genre Roulette than Ziggy Stardust was, featuring mixes of conventional hard-tinged glam rock, piano-driven jazz fusion, art rock, and even rockabilly and Doo-wop throwback.

Aladdin Sane was supported by four singles: "The Jean Genie", "Drive-In Saturday", "Time", and Bowie's cover of The Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together". For Bowie, this was an unprecedented amount of singles for a single album; up until now, the most an album would get was just two.


Side One

  1. "Watch That Man" (4:30)
  2. "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)" (5:06)
  3. "Drive-In Saturday" (4:33)
  4. "Panic In Detroit" (4:25)
  5. "Cracked Actor" (3:01)

Side Two

  1. "Time" (5:15)
  2. "The Prettiest Star" (3:31)
  3. "Let's Spend The Night Together"note  (3:10)
  4. "The Jean Genie" (4:07)
  5. "Lady Grinning Soul" (3:54)

Trope that man, oh honey trope that man:

  • Bo Diddley Beat: "Panic In Detroit"
  • Body Paint: Bowie's face is painted in garish colours on the front cover.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "The Jean Genie"
    He says he's a beautician and sells you nutrition and keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear.
  • Call-Back: "Time" references his earlier song "Sell Me a Coat".
    Sell Me a Coat:
    Sell me a coat, 'cause I feel cold.
    You'll freeze and catch cold/'cause you left your coat behind.
  • Cover Version: "Let's Spend The Night Together" was, of course, originally by The Rolling Stones, from the American version of Between the Buttons.
  • Darker and Edgier: Due to the American influence and the fast-paced songwriting, Aladdin Sane is a darker, harder, nastier, gaudier glam rock album than Ziggy Stardust, with lyrics that paint the pictures of urban decay, degenerate lives, drug addiction, sex, violence and death. The character of Aladdin Sane was also far less optimistic, rather engaging in aggressive sexual activities and heavy drugs.
  • Digital Destruction: Aladdin Sane was an unusual victim of RCA Records' self-admittedly rushed CD releases of the Bowie catalog in The '80s. Unlike other albums in the series, Aladdin Sane was pressed solely in Japan regardless of region (other albums had European copies made by PolyGram in West Germany), but used two different plants with different masters: CSR and Denon. The Denon master, featured on European copies and later American ones, is considered overly-muddy compared to the CSR master (used solely for early American copies) and the original LP, featuring a lower volume, reduced treble, and increased bass.
  • Doo-wop: "Drive-In Saturday".
  • Driven to Suicide: Apparently, the Che Guevara look-alike of "Panic In Detroit".
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Like his earlier song "Five Years", "Aladdin Sane" the song is based on Bowie's then-conviction that the world had only a few years left. Its full title is "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)", the first two dates being the years before a world war began, thus foreshadowing World War III happening in the coming years (assuming it hadn't already begun).
  • Epic Rocking: The Title Track and "Time" are both over five minutes long.
  • Face on the Cover: Bowie's face is featured on the album cover, filling the entire image.
  • Genre Roulette: Bowie plays with numerous styles here. "Watch That Man" sounds more like The Rolling Stones than the actual Stones cover. "Drive-In Saturday" is Doo-wop. "Aladdin Sane" is jazz influenced and allows pianist Mike Garson to do a Theolonious Monk-ish solo. "Cracked Actor" is predominantly Hard Rock, with only a hint of glam. "Lady Grinning Soul" is European art music. "The Jean Genie" is Delta blues while "Panic In Detroit" has a Bo Diddley Beat.
  • Grief Song: Bowie wrote "Time" when friends in his own age group started dying, among them New York Dolls drummer Billy Murcia, who's mentioned as "Billy Dolls".
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: The titular "Cracked Actor" is known for his wholesome image.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: "Watch That Man" takes place at a party so nuts that Ziggy/Bowie takes off into the street.
  • Performance Video: The music video for "The Jean Genie", directed by photographer Mick Rock, depicts Bowie and the Spiders from Mars playing on a soundstage and in a White Void Room, intercut with scenes depicting Bowie and company outside the Mars Hotel in San Francisco, California.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Aladdin Sane" = "a lad insane".
  • Rearrange the Song: Similarly to "Hang On to Yourself" and "Moonage Daydream" off of the previous album, "The Prettiest Star" is a rerecorded version of a non-album single from 1970, originally released as a follow-up to "Space Oddity".
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mick Jagger and model-actress Twiggy are name-checked in "Drive-In Saturday".
    • Bowie wrote "The Jean Genie" about Iggy Pop. He says on some level he was probably thinking about Jean Genet too.
  • Time Title: Done more literally than most examples with "Time", about how suffocating the inevitability of the title concept is.
    Time, he's waiting in the wings
    He speaks of senseless things
    His script is you and me, boy...
  • Title Track: The second song on the album, "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)", to the point where many reissues omit the parenthetical subtitle to make the song name 1:1 with the album title.
  • Vanilla Edition: The Rykodisc reissue of the album conspicuously lacks any bonus tracks, which according to former staff member Jeff Rougvie was the result of the label already including all the potential candidates on the Sound + Vision Boxed Set in 1989; biographer Kevin Caan claimed that the outtake "Zion" was suggested in the wake of this before Bowie vetoed it. Together with the soundtrack album for Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, it's only one of two Bowie reissues by Rykodisc to not have any additional content.
  • White Void Room: Bowie is photographed in one on the album cover.
  • World War III: Alluded to with the Title Track's subtitle, "(1913-1938-197?)". 1913 and 1938 were the years before the respective starting points of World War I and World War II; consequently, 197? is intended to hint at a third world war breaking out sometime between 1971 and 1980 in the album's setting.


Video Example(s):


David Bowie - "The Jean Genie"

David Bowie (1947-2016) was an English rock musician known for his many radical shifts in style, from glam rock to soul to Krautrock and so on. This excerpt from the music video for his 1972 song "The Jean Genie" (the lead single off the following year's Aladdin Sane) depicts many of the hallmarks of his glam rock era. These include the flamboyantly androgynous costumes, the hard-edged sound, and the theatrically opaque lyrics.

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Example of:

Main / GlamRock

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