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January 10, 2017

Book Notes - Woody Woodmansey "Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie"

Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Woody Woodmansey's memoir Spider from Mars follows the drummer for David Bowie's Spiders from Mars band through the recording of The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and Aladdin Sane albums and worldwide tours.

In his own words, here is Woody Woodmansey's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie:

My book is about my memories of being David Bowie's drummer in the band Spiders From Mars so it already contains recollections of recording four albums and touring the world performing the songs from those albums. In order to write this it has brought back memories of all those songs and made me look again at what it felt like to be a contributing part of songs that have become rock and roll history. So music and its influence and inspiration is what drove us every day. Never thinking for a minute I would be re-living it all again over forty years later and telling the story!

"Ode To Joy" Stanley Kubrick Music - A Clockwork Orange

In my book I felt it was important to try to convey the feeling of anticipation and excitement, the adrenaline rush that always occurred prior to walking out on stage and delivering a David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars show.

Bowie had chosen this piece of music as our intro music and it was the perfect counterpoint being a Beethoven classical piece with an electronic arrangement.

It was arranged this way for the soundtrack of the movie A Clockwork Orange and it quickly became the cue for the band and the audience that the show was about to start.

Whenever I hear 'Ode To Joy' I always feel like I should be getting ready to walk on stage.

I listened to it many times whilst writing the book and it helped bring back memories I would have missed.

"The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud"

I had just re-located from the north of England on guitarist and friend Mick Ronson's recommendation in order to join Bowie's band. I didn't know much about Bowie and thought he was a folk singer that had had a hit with 'Space Oddity' and then disappeared.

On my first meeting with him I had a list of boxes in my head that I needed to tick. Could he sing? Could he write? Did he have what it takes? Sounds funny now yeah.

He'd played me some songs from his earlier recordings and they were a bit too folky and lightweight, for me, coming from a progressive rock background. As I wrote I remembered he had picked up his 12 string guitar and sitting just a few feet in front of me, he played this song…by the end of it I'd ticked the boxes and felt I'd made the right decision to join his band.

"Life On Mars"

In the book I talk in detail about the recording of what has become an iconic Bowie song, 'Life On Mars'.

I vividly remember hearing David 'plinky, plonking' on the piano he had in his bedroom. He wasn't an accomplished pianist but was brilliant at putting chords together. I listened as he completed the lyrics…'Micky Mouse has grown up a cow'. That's weird, I remember thinking.

When we went in to the studio to record the song as part of the album Hunky Dory, Rick Wakeman was hired as the pianist.

David said to him 'just treat it as a piano piece'. The result blew us all away and when Ken Scott (co-producer) called us in to hear the finished mix, it was an incredible feeling. I recall thinking 'is that what we sound like?'

That song was a turning point for us as a band. We all realised at that point that Bowie had only just scratched the surface of his actual potential. It is still my favourite song on any Bowie album.


It's funny to think this song was not originally part of the album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.

We had finished the album and the mixes were sent over to RCA, the record company Bowie was signed to.

They loved it but said 'there isn't a single on here and so we can't release it as it is'.

This was just before Christmas '71. David went away and wrote 'Starman' and we went back in to the studio early January and recorded it.

This was the song, that when released, led to the rocket ride to the top.

It also made sense as it brought a sort of concept together of an alien arriving on earth as a rock star! Without that song the success might never have happened!!

I honestly believe Bowie could write a hit song any time he felt like it…

Woody Woodmansey and Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review

Noisey interview with the author
Phawker interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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