“Who’s playing that bloody piano?!”
This was the year the alien landed, Bowie came to ground. He still occasionally sang about driving a module and sleeping in capsules but it was obvious he was a real human being with cigarette-stained fingers singing about Lorraine, Reverend Alabaster and Twig the Wonder Kid. The thing is, I’d heard Lou Reed by then and knew that he and Bowie inhabited the same world of low-life and weirdos. That said, apart from the ridiculous piano playing on the track “Aladdin Sane” and the awful, pedestrian cover of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” the album was pretty close to being perfect. It was solid, like closing the door on an expensive car, or watching the BBC rather than ITV, it was beautifully produced with a depth of sound not found on Ziggy Stardust. The lyrics were earth-bound but still brilliant:
“A lemon in a bag played a tiger rag” from “Watch That Man” and “I ran to the window, looked for a plane or two” from “Panic in Detroit” were two of my favourite lines. I didn’t understand “Cracked Actor” at the time but the guitar sounded nasty! In fact, for me it was the guitar that made the album. Mick Ronson’s guitar sound was at its peak, and was never bettered. He makes every note sound like it’s being ripped out of the wood and the sustain is fabulous. As well as featuring possibly the dirtiest lyric ever (it still makes me cringe) “Time” has one of my favourite guitar solos of all time.
I still can’t think about Aladdin Sane though, without remembering the slight blemish my copy had on the front cover. I tried everything to cover it up – wax crayon, wiping it with a cloth, anything. I even considered taking it back to the shop and saying it was scratched, just so I could get another copy with a perfect cover!
(And the piano player redeemed himself on the last track “Lady Grinning Soul”)