A New Year Earworm (“Lady Stardust”)

In the early months of last year I wrote about Earworms regularly, often enough to create a Category for them. In the second of half of last year they rarely occupied my mind but I have had one going through my head for a week or two now: David Bowie’s “Lady Stardust”, from the album “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. (For many people of my age and background that would count as Universal Knowledge: I wouldn’t have to explain to any of my old school-friends which album “Lady Stardust” was on.)

I have been listening to “Ziggy Stardust” for over 30 years now. It was the album (or, more accurately, tape) that I played most often in the summer term at the end of my first year at university. During my second year it was more “Diamond Dogs” and “Aladdin Sane”, taped onto the two sides of a TDK AD-90 cassette. When I recall those years the relevant songs play in my head. When I play the songs, those years come to mind.

During that summer term, at the end of my first year at university, I went to a few parties in the large function room at my college (the Junior Combination Room, or JCR). The sun was always shining. We always got mildly, rather than wildly, drunk, on some combination of fruit juice, spirits and SWW (Sparkling White Wine, as in the phrase PBABSWW, which frequently appeared on the invitations: Please Bring a Bottle of Sparkling White Wine). The JCR had (and still has, as of February last year at least) a grand piano. Accomplished musicians would play something from their repertoire. I had no repertoire. At the time I thought, often, how I would love to be able to sing and play “Lady Stardust”. If I could play just one song, that would be it.

Over thirty years have passed. My repertoire now includes hundreds of songs, over a hundred of which reached #1 in the UK charts. And over the last month I have finally learnt to play and sing “Lady Stardust”. It has been on my mind constantly. Earlier in the week, when my daughter and I went to say goodbye to Dippy the Diplodocus at the Natural History Museum, lines from the song would emerge, involuntarily, wherever we went. We popped into the Brompton Oratory and lit candles; they’re enormous, and the candle-holders are covered in large, weirdly shaped bits of wax that have melted and solidified, like props from a Gothic horror movie. On entering and leaving the church the tune and the words going through my mind were, “Femme fatales emerged / from shadows to watch this creature fair”. It’s the most persistent earworm I’ve had for many months.

While revisiting “Ziggy” over the last fortnight I have also been checking out demo versions of the songs. Here’s one example, which I find utterly compelling. The final, polished version, from the album, is here. Happy listening, and Happy New Year, again.




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