David Bowie first released “Moonage Daydream” under the project name Arnold Corns, which was one of Bowie’s side interests, a group set up for 19-year-old dress designer Freddie Burrettia to front. The original band had been assembled in Dulwich College, the name inspired by Pink Floyd’s song “Arnold Layne”, and when Bowie agreed to write some songs for Burrettia in 1971, he revived Arnold Corns, with his regular line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass), Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey (drums), with Bowie and Freddie on vocals.
Arnold Corns’ version of “Moonage Daydream” was recorded in April ‘71 and released as a single in May of that year, with “Hang on to Yourself” as its B-side. The song tells the story of an alien messiah, who is born to save the world from impending disaster. Surprisingly, it was a flop, but Bowie recognized he had hit on an idea that was too good to waste, and developed it for the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Ziggy was a mini-concept album, really a sequence of related songs, as Bowie later explained to William S. Burroughs in Rolling Stone magazine:
The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ‘cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. “All the Young Dudes” is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite…
The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I’ve made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage…
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes “Starman”, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately…
The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox…Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ roll suicide’. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.
The album Ziggy Stardust… was mainly recorded over the Fall of 1971, and then finished during a week in January 1972. It was recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, London, the first studio to boast an 8-track recording machine in 1968, and by the early 1970s the first in Europe to have a 16-track recorder. Trident was where The Beatles recorded “Hey Jude” and was a popular studio for the likes of T.Rex, Queen, Supertramp and Bowie.
Recording started in September with “It Ain’t Easy”, then a longer session during the first two weeks of November produced “Hang on to Yourself”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (later shortened to “Star”), “Moonage Daydream”, “Soul Love”, “Lady Stardust”, and “Five Years”. Two covers were also laid down then, Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam”. The album was finished in January 1972 with the recording of “Starman”, “Suffragette City”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”.
Bowie was producer and had definite ideas for how the record would sound, as co-producer, recording engineer and mixing engineer, Ken Scott recalled in 1999:
“I remember David coming to me, prior to doing the album, and saying, “You’re not going to like this album. Its gonna be much harder.” I don’t know who he compared it to; maybe it was Iggy. He thought I would hate it, but I loved it!
“We recorded quickly, just as we always did. We generally worked Monday through Saturday, 2:00 p.m. until we finished, generally midnightish - not much later, eat when we felt like there was a natural break, and spent 2 to 3 weeks recording and 2 weeks mixing.
“Nothing was recorded 100% live. There were over dubs on every track, some more than others. If memory serves me well, fat chance after 27 years, “Round and Round” had the least. On Ziggy Stardust the basics were virtually the same for all the tracks. It was only the nuances in each song that would vary. The sessions weren’t much different to any of the other Bowie sessions.
The line-up was David Bowie – vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, piano, harpsichord; Mick Ronson – guitars, piano, backing vocals, string arrangement; Trevor Bolder – bass; Mick Woodmansey – drums.
Bolder, Woodmansey and Scott have since said “Moonage Daydream” was the best track from Ziggy Stardust, with Bolder saying in 1976:
“...I liked “Moonage Daydream”... I think, [it] had a lot of feel. I think it had more feel on-stage than it did on the album. When we used to do it on-stage it used to be fantastic. It really used to get the kids going. That would start the kids off. When they wanted to go - we would do that number about four before the end. and that would lift the audience up . I think the audience liked to hear it live. Every night you knew that “Moonage Daydream” was going to be the one that really lifted them. Then we’d go and follow on from there to the end.”
While Woodmansey also said in 1976:
“My favourite on that [album] was “Moonage Daydream” as far as like ....feeling goes, you know, as far as actually getting something out of the track when you listen to it back.”
The Ziggy Stardust Companion ran an online poll on this question from 1999-2001 the results of 828 fans polled their favorite track was “Moonage Daydream”. The berakdown was as follows:
The results showed that “Moonage Daydream” was the most popular track with 20% of the vote, followed by “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Rock n Roll Suicide” with 14% each. “Lady Stardust” (11%) and “Five Years” (9%) were next most popular. “Soul Love” (6%), “Suffragette City” (5%), “Hang Onto Yourself” (4%) and “Star” (2%) made up the remainder of the total vote.
David Bowie - Vocals
Mick Ronson - Guitar
Trevor Bolder - Bass
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey - Drums
David Bowie & Mick Ronson - Piano, Guitar and Backing Vocals
Bonus clip - Arnold Corns “Moonage Daydream” (1971)
With thanks to Richard Metzger