During the earthly sojourn of Ziggy Stardust, Woody Woodmansey laid down the rhythm for David Bowie’s mercurial backing band The Spiders From Mars.
Here he talks Valerie Siebert through his 13 favourite Bowie tracks, sharing personal memories of how they were made along the way.
What was it like to record with David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars? Woody Woodmansey lays down his insider knowledge.
This one was one of my favorites because it was the opening track to The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust. What was wanted was a drum beat to introduce the song itself and to set an atmosphere for the whole album. The idea of the song is that the world is ending in five years, so it was about finding a drumbeat that got that across – which was quite a challenge!
I remember going through drum rolls, cymbal crashes and I kind of thought: ‘Well if it’s the end of the world… I can’t be bothered! Haha!’ You wouldn’t be excited and you wouldn’t feel like doing a lot. So, that beat came out of sort of despair and apathy, and then when the band comes in and David starts singing, it just feels right.
It felt like a really good beginning, so I was quite proud of that. I nailed the brief by all reports! It’s been a lot of people’s favourite bit of drumming, which is always nice to hear. They’ll say: ‘Oh when Five Years starts, it gives my spine a tingle when I hear it!’ Well my spine was tingling when I played it!
A dirty sexy rock and roll track from the future: that was my concept of it when I first heard it. At the time when he wrote it, it sounded pretty far out from anything he had written before. So, the challenge was finding an approach that would fit with the other songs we’d be doing. He’d write on a 12-string guitar mainly, so it always had a little bit of a folky element to it.
It would sound like it came from a folk singer, but we knew it wasn’t going to come out like a folk song so we would have to figure out how to break it down into a rock & roll context. Those are the things that would go through our heads as a band, and that one was, lyrically, summing up the whole Ziggy thing. You know: ‘I’m an alien’ and just the atmosphere around it.
And when Mick Ronson did his solo on it, that was a new kind of solo. I think he used an echoplex thing, where it sort of went round on a tape machine and kept going and going and then he played on top of it – and it was pretty freaky! Pretty far out to play along with! The whole thing sounded as big as the universe while you were playing, but you had to keep grounded, keep that solid beat going and not be affected. Then when we heard it back it was like ‘wow!’
It went to the stars, but we still had our feet on the ground.