The song title includes the parenthetical phrase "(1913-1938-197?)". The first two years refer to the years before the two World Wars broke out, and thus the third year reflects Bowie's belief at the time that World War III was imminent, a theme that is dominant throughout the lyrics of this song, and Bowie's songwriting in general at this point.
James - Lexington, KY
In 1999, at the Bridge School Benefit, an annual charity concert organized by Neil Young, Bowie played this song acoustically and said that it was "about young people, just before the two wars, wanting to go and screw girls and kill foreigners."
The title is a play on words "A Lad Insane." Bowie's previous album introduced the Ziggy Stardust character, and many people thought he was a little nuts.
Bowie reportedly took inspiration from Evelyn Waugh's novel, Vile Bodies, when writing this song.
This song features a piano solo by the American keyboardist Mike Garson. Bowie reportedly rejected Garson's initial solo attempts, one of which was in a blues style, the other in a Latin style, instead asking for something akin to "avant-garde jazz." Garson thus decided to improvise and the solo that you hear was recorded in just one take. Garson commented: "I've had more communication in the last 26 years about that one solo than the 11 albums I've done on my own, the six that I've done with another group that I'm co-leader of, hundreds of pieces I've done with other people and the 3,000 pieces of music I've written to date. I don't think there's been a week in those 26 years that have gone by without someone, somewhere, asking me about it!"
The Aladdin Sane cover features the iconic image of Bowie with a red and blue lightning bolt painted across his face. This would later be imitated by Lady GaGa.
Mike Garson told Mojo regarding his piano solo: "For the title track, they used my third take. I played a blues solo on the first and a Latin on the second. Then Bowie said, 'Well, why don't you play an avant-garde solo like you do in New York?' and I joked, 'Well, that's why I'm not working Saturday night!'"
"That solo was one take and I brought everything I'd learned to the table in a condensed way."
"David's son (Duncan) told me about 20 years ago that the solo used to give him nightmares, but finally he fell in love with it."