David Bowie, the unreleased songs from the “Rock 'n' Roll Star!” box  (part 1)

David Bowie, the unreleased songs from the “Rock 'n' Roll Star!” box (part 2)

The “Rock'n'roll star!” box set was released on June 14th, which collects 5 CDs and 1 Blu-Ray containing, among other things, numerous unreleased tracks which include first demos, outtakes, alternative versions and live recordings, all dating back to the period before, during and after the release of the album “The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. At this link you can find the complete and detailed list of all the tracks on the discs in the box set. Here is the link to purchase it.

Below, however, you will find the second part (the first was released on June 14th, and you can find it at this link; a third will follow on Wednesday June 19th) of the analysis and review of the unreleased tracks contained in the box. The author is Paolo Madeddu, undoubtedly among the greatest Italian connoisseurs of Bowie's work, as is amply demonstrated by his two books of “stories behind the songs” published by Giunti, respectively entitled “Changes (1964-1976)”, released in 2020, and “Blackstar (1977-2016),” released in 2022.


Ziggy Stardust (John Peel Session 11 January 1972)

Almost a year after the first acoustic demo, recorded alone upon returning from the United States, Mr.'s triumphal march. Stardust hasn't changed much, and apparently the author of it doesn't think it needs tweaks: if anything, a little more synchrony between the members of the band. It is the first public performance of the song, the definitive version of which was recorded a couple of months earlier, in November. Meanwhile, the album is still incomplete (three songs are missing, which will be recorded in February) but the desire to make the new material heard is irrepressible.

Queen Bitch (John Peel Session 11 January 1972)

Newly released song (“Hunky Dory” has been in stores for a couple of months), but which had already been presented to BBC listeners before even being recorded in the studio. Aside from the sound quality, we are very close to the version that will be performed, with Ziggy's green onesie, for the TV show “Ready Steady Go!” a few weeks after this (7 February 1972).

Waiting For The Man (John Peel Session 11 January 1972)

At this point in the story, the Lou Reed song was already a Bowie workhorse. He had recorded it in the studio in 1967 immediately after having been struck by listening to the acetate preview, and as far-fetched as it sounds, he had started playing it in public even before the Velvet Underground themselves released it. His very small fan base could expect it on every occasion: he had already proposed it twice in radio shows in 1970, but for the first time we can hear it played by Spiders From Mars. It's not the most difficult of the songs, but this is a good version, due to Mick Ronson's vigorous solo and the great seriousness with which Bowie imitates the laconic tone of his American friend.

Lady Stardust (John Peel Session 11 January 1972)

As with “Ziggy Stardust,” we hear the first public performance of a piece that was recorded for the album two months earlier.

In reality it is also one of the last. And maybe it's an impression, but it's as if after keeping the voltage high in the songs we've just listened to, the moment they offer this fine work of craftsmanship Bowie and the Spiders seem to realize that they're not quite doing it justice – or perhaps that its subtlety might be lost on excited audiences. After a dozen appearances in the setlist, from 1973 it will be celebrated until Bowie's jubilee: in January 1997, a version performed with the band of “Earthling” will be broadcast by the same BBC for the artist's 50th birthday. .


My Death (Live At The Music Hall, Boston, October 1, 1972)

A very interesting moment for those who are especially aware of the intense but deliberately melodramatic version at the Hammersmith Odeon the following year. There is no Mike Garson's piano floating between the verses, but only Bowie's guitar, alone on stage during the five minutes of his version of Jacques Brel's “La Mort”. His voice is much more composed and sober than that of Ziggy, who has not yet appropriated the piece. The sense of loneliness is accentuated by the ending: in the last verse, after the words “My death waits behind a door, but I am not afraid, because you are in front of that door… (pause)”. Unlike the adoring fans who a year later will shout at him enthusiastically: “Me!” “ME!”, no one intervenes from the audience. Bowie proceeds to wrap up and gets applause, but it's still not what he's working for.

CD 5 (part 1)

Looking For A Friend (The Arnold Corns version 2022 mix)

Here we are again at Arnold Corns' missed single – and it won't be the last time.

It was also tested with Spiders From Mars, as evidenced by the “Live At The Beeb”, and the demo on CD1 of this set. Some parts of this 2022 mix are recognizable in the final version, on which Freddi Burretti (or more likely, guitarist Mark Pritchett) overdubbed a cleaner vocal than this one, a little coarse. That was the version later released on the small Krazy Kat Records label (and listenable on YouTube) once Bowie had finally become a star. This instead should be the first of the two attempts made on 17 June 1971. Among the most obvious differences, the disappearance of the piano (which can also be heard in the first seconds), and Bowie who seems to wander around the studio singing and shouting into other people's microphones , behind Pritchett or Ronson, or others – Mickey King? Geoffrey MacCormack? Even the most reliable bowiographers do not go completely unbalanced. Perhaps the only one of the brigade who wasn't there that day was the alleged singer, Burretti. .

Hang On To Yourself (early Ziggy session take)

In May 1971 the version released as a single under the name Arnold Corns had gone largely unnoticed. Here Spiders From Mars begin to take ownership of their anthem, dramatically increasing its impact (compare with the second track on CD1). It is one of their very first attempts, and Bowie takes the opportunity to evaluate lyric changes, even making the title disappear in the chorus. Strange but true, the Spiders From Mars are mentioned, who already move “like tigers on Vaseline”, and their young friends with remarkable contortionist skills, but the invitation in the chorus is “Hang around”. The opposite of what will happen to this experimental refrain, which will never be seen around again.

Star (take 5 alternative version)

For a piece that talks about transformations, here's an interesting one – because unlike what happens with the track we just saw (“Hang On To Yourself”), here the chorus is essentially the one we know, but the verses are a little more aggressive – “Someone has to blow up Wall Street, someone has to kill the men in power, someone has to smoke the sky.” With lovely “Sha-la-la” in the background, and another proof of the Spiders' compactness.

Lady Stardust (take 1 alternative version)

It looks like an experiment. “What if I sang it an octave lower instead?” The effect is unsettling (at times the doubt arises that it isn't really Bowie singing, but Mick Ronson's voice has never been so serious). It is true that the song is inspired by a drag queen: it may be that she is risking her own interpretation of her character.

(the third part will be released on Wednesday 19 June)