It is nearly 40 years since Bowie's seminal first appearance as Ziggy Stardust on Top Of The Pops. A new book from Dylan Jones documents this iconic moment, and explains just why it has endured as such a pivotal performance
Top Of The Pops that summer night was its usual collection of bubblegum pop, plodding nascent glam rockers (some of whom – particularly in the case of Sweet – looked like they had been hod-carrying the week previously), and parochial soul stars.
And then there was David Bowie, the low-tech uber-freak with the mismatched pupils. This was Bowie’s third appearance on the show (the previous two had been for ‘Space Oddity’), but this was the one that properly resonated with its audience, the one that would go on to cause such a shift in the Zeitgeist. With his tall, flame-orange cockade quiff, lavishly applied make-up, white nail polish, wearing a multi-coloured, quilted jumpsuit that looked as though it were made from fluorescent fish skin (chosen by Ziggy co-shaper, the designer Freddie Burretti), and with his blue, twelve-string acoustic guitar slung across his pelvis, a bone thin Bowie appeared not so much as a pop singer, but rather as some sort of heavily made-up stick insect, a concept helped along by the provocative appearance of his guitarist, the chicken-headed Mick Ronson, who was also dressed in a tight-fitting jumpsuit (his made of gold satin), with both of them unapologetically sporting knee-length patent leather wrestler’s boots (Bowie’s were red). ‘Most people are scared of colour,’ Bowie said later. ‘Their lives are built up in shades of grey. It doesn’t matter how straight the style is, make it brightly-coloured material and everyone starts acting weird.’
For all of us. Suddenly Bowie – a man called alias – had the world at his nail-varnished fingertips, and in no time at all he would be the biggest star in the world. Former Creation Records boss Alan McGee, the man who discovered Oasis, the performance was, ‘The reason I got into rock’n’roll.’ Bowie’s performance didn’t just kick-start the Seventies, in a way it did the same for the Eighties, as many of those who saw him on television that day didn’t get a chance to fulfill their own dreams until years later – John Lydon, Boy George, Sean Ryder, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, Dave Wakeling of the Beat, Gary Kemp and hundreds, maybe thousands, more.
When Ziggy Played Guitar by Dylan Jones is published in hardback by Preface priced £20.