Five Years

Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

Songfacts®:

  • This is the opening track to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. An announcement airs that the world will end in five years' time because of a lack of natural resources. The song then proceeds to describe the frenzied aftermath of the announcement.
  • David Bowie chose five years as the length of time following a dream he had in 1971 in which his late father came to him and told him that he had only five years left to live and that he must never fly again.
  • This was recorded in November 1971 at London's Trident Studios. Bowie performed it on the BBC show The Old Grey Whistle Test on February 8, 1972, five months before the album's release.
  • It has been reported that Bowie was going to include this song in his Live Aid set in 1985 but voluntarily dropped it in favor of the showing of the BBC Ethiopia news appeal film.
  • In 2005, Bowie made a rare live appearance at the Fashion Rocks concert in New York to perform this song with Arcade Fire. They also performed "Life On Mars?" and Arcade Fire's song "Wake Up."
  • Bowie's lyric sheet for this song was part of an exhibition devoted to the British rock icon at London's V&A museum. It was interesting to note the scribbled tweaks that shifted "Five Years'" emotional impact. "I never thought I'd see so many people," for instance, became "...need so many people."
  • Woody Woodmansey was the drummer in Bowie's backing band, The Spiders From Mars. Speaking to The Quietus in a 2017 interview, he explained why this song contains one of his proudest moments on Ziggy Stardust.

    "What was wanted was a drum beat to introduce the song itself and to set an atmosphere for the whole album. The idea of the song is that the world is ending in five years, so it was about finding a drumbeat that got that across – which was quite a challenge! I remember going through drum rolls, cymbal crashes and I kind of thought: 'Well if it's the end of the world… I can't be bothered! Haha!' You wouldn't be excited and you wouldn't feel like doing a lot. So, that beat came out of sort of despair and apathy, and then when the band comes in and David starts singing, it just feels right. It felt like a really good beginning, so I was quite proud of that. I nailed the brief by all reports!"

Comments: 4

  • David from Sydney David from young’s town I guess you didn’t see it live, as in he gave up his (stage) time and the time given up was actually part of the Ethiopian appeal, it was footage on the ground from Africa played to the cars song a huge moment in the show and money intake. But it was a crazy set list from Bowie tvc15 an album track many years before from Station to station that I’m still trying to figure who the thin white duke is ? It was a day for bangers and he lost his nerve in choice of what people love from him as in the public non fans and queen nailed that request. He still is always up there but he did not show all the public what we Bowie fans see and know why he so talented on song and live
  • Delin The Felon from San Diego, CaBowie uses the same musical chords as John Lennon's "God." Bowie tends to borrow what he likes.
  • David from Youngstown, OhActually it was dropped as the last song for his Live Aid set so they could broadcast the Cars' "Drive" video. What an absolutely stupid decision! "Five Years" is one of Bowie's best songs.
  • Steve from Berkeley, CaAnd the album closes with "Rock-n-Roll Suicide" No love, you're not alone.
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