The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The album's cover as seen on the original
1972 vinyl LP

There have been differences in the look of the Ziggy Stardust album cover in various countries and over time. The most common have been in slight colour variation (the exact colour shades have varied – probably due to the different colours used in printing runs), cropping of the cover photograph (slightly more or less of the building and sky being shown) and most noticeably – in the text size and placement (there have been variations in both the size and placement of the title lettering).

Design             Brian Ward – Photography
                          Terry Pastor of Main Artery – Colouring
Released          June 1972
Label                RCA
Producers        Ken Scott, David Bowie

The image above is of the album’s rear cover as seen on the original 1972 LP. Like the front cover – there are slight differences to be found in the releases for different countries and over time. The most common are slight colour variation (i.e. the exact colour shades vary – probably due to the different colours used in printing runs), cropping (i.e. slightly more or less of the phone box is shown) and border surrounds (i.e. some have white borders, some black, most have no borders). 

The “A GEM PRODUCTION” logo appeared solo on all Ziggy Stardust LPs before December 1972.  After December 1972 all David Bowie LPs carried the “MAINMAN” logo as well.  Hence, the image above was a later production LP.The most famous difference is the 1972 Spanish Ziggy Stardust LP’s rear cover which was printed in duotone blue and not colour as above.

A notable feature of the rear cover are the famous words/instruction appearing at the bottom left corner: “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME” (this is now missing on the new 1999 EMI / Virgin CD release!). Also of interest is possible finger-writing on the glass.  Check out the left pane – second from the top.  Is that the letter “B” for Bowie?

Ziggy Stardust inner sleeve
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is the 5th studio album (1972) by English musician David Bowie. It is a concept album telling the story of a fictional rock star named Ziggy Stardust. It reached n. 5 in the UK chart and n. 75 in the United States on the Billboard Music Charts. In a Rolling Stone interview with William S. Burroughs, Bowie expanded on the Ziggy Stardust story:
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 cover photograph was taken outside furriers “K. West” at 23 Heddon Street, London, W1., looking south-east towards the centre of the city. Bowie said of the sign, “It’s such a shame that sign went [was removed]. People read so much into it. They thought ‘K. West’ must be some sort of code for ‘quest.’ It took on all these sort of mystical overtones.” The post office in the background (now “The Living Room, W1” bar) was the site of London’s first nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, which opened in 1912. As part of street renovations, in April 1997 a red “K series” phonebox was returned to the street, replacing a modern blue phonebox, which in turn had replaced the original phonebox featured on the rear cover.
Of the album’s packaging in general, Bowie said:
We did the photographs outside on a rainy night, and then upstairs in the studio we did the Clock Orange look-alikes that became the inner sleeve. The idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell thing with the on mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys, by William S. Burroughs. That was a really heavy book that had come out in about 1970, and it was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burrough’s Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.
The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of “Classic Album Cover” postage stamps issued in January 2010. The rear cover of the original vinyl album bore the instruction “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME“. The instruction was omitted, however, from the EMI 1999 re-release.
In March 2012, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street and Heddon Street, installed a commemorative brown plaque at 23 Heddon Street in the same place as the “K. West” sign on the cover photo. The unveiling was attended by original band members Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, and was unveiled by Gary Kemp. The plaque was the first to be installed by The Crown Estate and is one of the few plaques in the country devoted to fictional characters. The sign above Bowie’s head was installed by Barry Lomax in the mid-1960s while working for the London depot of Brighton sign company Bush Signs.