It Ain’t Easy

It Ain’t Easy (first performance, BBC, 1971).
It Ain’t Easy (Ziggy Stardust).

“It Ain’t Easy” was written by the American songwriter Ron Davies, who was born in Louisiana and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. At age 20, he was signed to A&M Records and in 1970 released Silent Song Through the Land, from which the song comes.

It’s unclear how Bowie picked up “It Ain’t Easy”; some biographers have claimed Mick Ronson had been playing it with his old band The Rats. It wasn’t that obscure a song, in any event: both Three Dog Night and Long John Baldry had already covered it, and Dave Edmunds soon would. Bowie first played “It Ain’t Easy” in his glam hootenanny BBC session of June 1971, and the song worked well as a finale: the singers taking turns on the verses, uniting in the song’s cavernous, gospel-inspired chorus. The ramshackle performance was in line with the other rock & roll circuses of the period, like Delaney and Bonnie’s groups or Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen Revue.

Bowie went on to cut a studio version of the song a month later, and used it to close the first side of Ziggy Stardust, an alleged concept record in which it has no discernible role. Maybe he just loved Ronson’s fine slide guitar on the track, or thought the song’s simplicity (it’s mainly just two chords, D and A, with a C thrown in during the choruses) and rock & roll cliches (we get “satisfaction” and a “hoochie coochie woman” in the same verse) gave the LP some ballast. Still, the fact that it made the cut for Ziggy while “Velvet Goldmine” and “Sweet Head” were axed remains one of the minor mysteries of Bowie’s career.

Debuted at the BBC on 3 June 1971, while the studio version was cut on 9 July. Never performed live, as far as I know.

Top: Hush Puppies takes a counter-feminist angle to sell shoes, 1971. “When the ‘Libs’ call us names like that it really means they think we’re rugged, masculine, virile.”

12 Responses to It Ain’t Easy

  1. Tom says:

    I remember, age 14 or so when I first got into Bowie, having a literally hours-long conversation about the storyline of Ziggy S with another Bowie fan and this one being a major bone of contention. We decided it was either a) a song the Spiders were playing before Ziggy hooked up with them, or b) an example of the kind of music Ziggy came along to replace/shake up in this fictional universe. Neither explanation really holds up to be honest!

  2. col1234 says:

    Those are as coherent explanations as any I’ve read from Bowie. I sometimes wish Bowie had kept his version of Brel’s “Amsterdam” on the LP, as he once intended—how could that have been shoehorned into the Ziggy storyline?

  3. Maj says:

    This has always been the weak link on the album for me. I dislike it as much as people seem to dislike Fill Your Heart on Hunky Dory. Velvet Goldmine would’ve been a great “replacement” for this one. I just don’t follow Bowie’s decision here.
    As if the fact that Ziggy is only a bit more of a concept album than Sgt Pepper was not enough…

  4. Ivan Coates says:

    I am curious that the date of recording is given as July 1971. Elsewhere on this blog it is indicated that Hunky Dory was recorded from July-September 1971. So that means It Ain’t Easy was recorded early in the Hunky Dory sessions, not used on that album but picked up for Ziggy Stardust. Is that right? It SOUNDS more rock’n’roll, in the Ziggy vein, than the Hunky Dory material. Other sources put the recording of Hunky Dory earlier – April 1971, which would make more sense in relation to the July date for It Ain’t Easy. Can anyone clarify these dates?

    Thanks for the great blog,


    • col1234 says:

      hey ivan– yes, the date of recording of “It Ain’t Easy” is 9 July 1971, as per Kevin Cann–right in the middle of the Hunky Dory sessions. Keep in mind Hunky & ZIggy were written almost at the same time. the April ’71 date, which i’ve seen too, is wrong.

  5. billter says:

    I don’t understand the hostility to this song. It’s a solid tune, a lovely performance, and flows well in the musical sequence of the album. (It even has some very proto-Pixies loud-quiet-loud dynamics.) Who cares if it doesn’t fit into the thematic framework, as we’ve already established that Ziggy-as-concept-album is flimsy at best.

  6. BenJ says:

    Having “Ziggy” loaded onto my iPod, I’ve listened to this one a few times. I’m convinced that if Jack White has only heard one Bowie performance, this is it. I do like this. It gives Bowie something to chew on as a vocalist even if it has nothing to do with the album’s ostensible concept.

  7. juan chicoy says:

    I knew Ron Davies very well….we were friends for 30 years and i made his guitar….His daughter told me after his passing that Bowie met Ron at A&M Records in 1970 when Ron was doing his first record….he learned about the song there.

    • col1234 says:

      that’s really interesting! thanks for the note.

    • Jilli Roberts says:

      I’ve been searching for a link between Bowie & R.Davies. I knew there was one from something he’d said in an interview, long lost. This is it. Thanks.

  8. […] pouting into the mirror.” I’ve spent all these years puzzling over the “It Ain’t Easy” (you say minor, I say major) curiosity but didn’t ever come up with a plausible […]

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