“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.”