David Bowie’s 1972 opus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was his first truly classic album, and it remains one of the most important rock records of all time. Fifty-one years later, Ziggy‘s centerpiece “Starman” is being reimagined as the lead single off Ziggy Stardub, a beautifully crafted reggae version of Bowie’s iconic LP from New York’s Easy Star All-Stars, who have built a career on reinterpreting rock for the dread set.
“It’s the song most pivotal to the loose storyline of the original album,” says Michael Goldwasser — arranger and multi-instrumentalist with the Easy Star All-Stars and co-founder of Easy Star Records.
The lead single features veteran British-Jamaican vocalist Maxi Priest, who turns in a raw, yet upbeat — almost bubbly — version of the iconically alien tune. “Maxi Priest made sense for the song because his vocal versatility has crossed genres and boundaries,” Goldwasser says. “The chorus of ‘Starman’ has this lift that really draws people in because it jumps an entire octave from the ‘star’ to ‘man.’ We needed an accomplished singer who could do something like that. It’s not easy, and I suspected Maxi could pull that off, and, of course, he did.”
Ziggy Stardub drops on April 21 as the latest installment in Easy Stars’ ambitious series of reggae reworkings of classic rock and pop albums, each arranged and produced by Goldwasser. The best known is 2003’s Dub Side of the Moon; other releases include 2006’s Radiodread (which took on OK Computer), 2009’s Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, and 2012’s Easy Star’s Thrillah, their take on the Michael Jackson masterpiece.
“Settling on the next album in this series was a drawn-out process, with plenty of discussions and arguments,” says Eric Smith, who co-founded Easy Star Records in 1996 with Goldwasser, Lem Oppenheimer, and Remy Gerstein. “We took the leap with Ziggy Stardust; once Michael nailed down the arrangements and we started recording the basic tracks, we instantly knew that Bowie’s glam rock masterpiece was the right choice all along.”
Featured guest artists on Ziggy Stardub include UK reggae legends Steel Pulse (“Five Years”), Fishbone, Vernon Reid, and Macy Gray (“Rock and Roll Suicide”). Rising Jamaican talents Naomi Cowan (“Moonage Daydream”), Mortimer (“Soul Love”), and Samory I (“It Ain’t Easy”) round out the roster.
“I listened to Ziggy Stardust as a teenager but once we decided to do it as the tribute album, I listened to it like crazy,” explains Goldwasser, whose wide-ranging production credits also include Jason Mraz’s 2020 album Look for the Good. “I thought about elements from the original songs, the little details that would be cool to interpolate or just copy into the new versions because I want people to listen many times over and hear different things every time. David Bowie was a genius but in order to do what I do, it takes a certain level of craziness to execute every detail of every arrangement, and then keep track of the big picture.”
Maxi Priest’s own career began in the mid-1970s as a singer with the London-based reggae sound system Saxon International. Equally influenced by pop and R&B, he scored several US Top 20 hits, most memorably the hip-hop infused 1990 chart-topper “Close to You” and his sweet 1987 take on Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” On “Starman,” Priest infuses the song with a warm, almost-huggable version of the melody, as the All-Stars put down a roots groove anchored in pulsing bass, a flying drum pattern, live strings and dub reverb. The results doesn’t just honor Bowie’s vision — it expands on the original track’s intergalactic feel.
Check out an exclusive premier of “Starman” here: