Ask anyone lucky enough to be at London's Toby Jug on Feb. 10, 1972 and they'll tell you they witnessed rock history: David Bowie - already known to his countrymen for the Top 5 hit "Space Oddity" three years prior - was performing that night. But it wasn't just any show: it was his first as the electrifying persona the world would come to know as Ziggy Stardust.
Ever the entertainer, Bowie sought to add a heavy dose of theatricality to his musical pursuits in 1972. Drawing inspiration from American rockers like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed as well as eccentric British rocker Vince Taylor, Bowie crafted Ziggy as a messianic, androgynous musician from another planet, who attempts to divert attentions from impending global disaster but falls victim to his own rock-star excesses. The singer accented his already arresting facial features with makeup (including shaved eyebrows), cutting his hair into a distinct red-dyed mullet and wearing kabuki-inspired garments of extraordinary shape by designer Kansai Yamamoto.
Bowie had taped an appearance on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test just days before, and made a bold proclamation weeks before that in an interview with Melody Maker. "I'm going to be huge," he proclaimed boldly, “and it’s quite frightening in a way, because I know that when I reach my peak and it’s time for me to be brought down it will be with a bump.”
Whether that interview was a test run for the character's persona or something else, the prophesy came true. Bowie's album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars reached the U.K. Top 5 later that year, spawning another Top 10 hit in "Starman." A follow-up, Aladdin Sane, written mostly while Bowie toured the Ziggy character through America, was even bigger, topping the British charts and Top 5 singles in "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday." Bowie eventually retired the character on-stage before 3,500 fans at London's Hammersmith Odeon - considerably more than the 60 or so who saw the character "born" at the Toby Jug.
"I was oblivious to everything and everyone else in the room," Steve "Bunty" King, a fan who'd attended the Toby Jug show, said in 2000. "I couldn't blink for fear of missing something. Nothing would ever be the same again. I knew one thing for sure - David Bowie was going to be HUGE!" He was right.