Suicide Is Painless

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For the Grey's Anatomy episode, see Suicide Is Painless (Grey's Anatomy).
"Suicide Is Painless"
Single by The Mash
from the album M*A*S*H (Original Soundtrack Recording)
B-side "The M*A*S*H March"
Released 1970
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1969
Genre Folk
Length 2:53
Label Columbia/CBS
Writer(s) Johnny Mandel (music)
Mike Altman (lyrics)
Producer(s) Thomas Z. Shepard

Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)” is a song written by Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics), which was the theme song for both the movie and TV series M*A*S*H. Mike Altman is the son of the original film’s director, Robert Altman, and was 14 years old when he wrote the song’s lyrics. During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1980s, Robert Altman said that his son had earned more than a million US dollars for having co-written the song while he only made US$70,000 for having directed the movie.

The song was written specifically for Ken Prymus (the actor playing Private Seidman), who sang it during the faux suicide of Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck) in the film's "Last Supper" scene.[1][2] Robert Altman had two stipulations about the song for Mandel: first, it had to be called "Suicide Is Painless"; second, it had to be the "stupidest song ever written".[3] Altman tried to write the lyrics himself, but found that it was too difficult for his 45-year-old brain to write "stupid enough".[4] Instead he gave the task to his 14-year-old-son, Michael, who apparently wrote the lyrics in five minutes.[5][6]

Altman later decided that the song worked so well, he would use it as the film's main theme, despite Mandel's initial objections.[7] This version was sung by uncredited session singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin and Ian Freebairn-Smith (the vocals are sometimes misattributed to Johnny Mandel, due to his being the only name officially credited for the song).[citation needed]

Several instrumental versions of the song were used as the theme for the TV series. Credited to "The Mash" when it appeared on the film's soundtrack album on Columbia/CBS Records in 1970,[8] it belatedly became a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart in May 1980.[9]

The song was ranked #66 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.

Track listing[edit]

7" vinyl
  • Germany: CBS / 5009
  • UK: CBS / S CBS 8536
  • US: Columbia / JZSS 153321 [Promo only]
  • US: Columbia / ZSS 153321 [original release]
A-side
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)"   Johnny Mandel, Mike Altman The Mash 2:53
B-side
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "The M*A*S*H March"   Mandel Johnny Mandel 1:19

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1970) Peak
position
Dutch GfK chart[10] 3
Dutch Top 40[11] 4
Chart (1980) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart[12] 1
Irish Singles Chart 1
Preceded by
"What's Another Year" by Johnny Logan
UK number one single
31 May 1980 – 14 June 1980
Succeeded by
"Crying" by Don McLean

Manic Street Preachers version[edit]

"Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"
Single by Manic Street Preachers
from the album Ruby Trax
B-side "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" (by The Fatima Mansions)
"Sleeping with the NME"
"Spectators of Suicide"
"Star Lover"
"Never Want Again"
"Dead Yankee Drawl"
"Ain't Goin' Down"
Released 1992
Format 7" vinyl, 12" vinyl, CD
Genre Alternative rock, glam punk, hard rock
Length 3:43
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Johnny Mandel (music)
Mike Altman (lyrics)
Producer(s) Manic Street Preachers
Manic Street Preachers singles chronology
"Stars and Stripes"
(1992)
"Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"
(1992)
"Little Baby Nothing"
(1993)

Manic Street Preachers released a cover version of "Suicide Is Painless" in 1992. In the UK it was a double A-side charity single (to help The Spastics Society), with The Fatima Mansions' take on Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" as the other A-side. The 12" and CD versions of the UK single included "Sleeping with the NME" – an excerpt from a radio documentary recorded in the offices of the NME, capturing staff's reaction to photographs of guitarist Richey Edwards's self-mutilation. The single peaked at #7 in the UK Singles Chart[13] spending three weeks in the Top Ten. In other countries it was released as a Manic Street Preachers single, with different B-sides.

Track listings[edit]

7" vinyl
  • UK: Columbia / 658382 7
Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Johnny Mandel, Mike Altman Manic Street Preachers 3:40
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"   Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen, Robert John "Mutt" Lange The Fatima Mansions 6:26
  • Netherlands: Columbia / COL 658385 7
Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Mandel, Altman  
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Spectators of Suicide"   James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore, Richey James Edwards  
12" vinyl
  • UK: Columbia / 658382 6
Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Mandel, Altman Manic Street Preachers  
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"   Adams, Kamen, Lange The Fatima Mansions  
2. "Sleeping with the N.M.E."     Manic Street Preachers  
CD
  • UK: Columbia / 658382 2
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Mandel, Altman Manic Street Preachers  
2. "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"   Adams, Kamen, Lange The Fatima Mansions  
3. "Sleeping with the N.M.E."     Manic Street Preachers  
  • Europe: Columbia / 658385 2
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Mandel, Altman  
2. "Spectators of Suicide"   Bradfield, Wire, Moore, Edwards  
3. "Star Lover"   Bradfield, Wire, Moore, Edwards  
  • Japan: Epic/Sony / ESCA 5668
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"   Mandel, Altman 3:43
2. "Never Want Again"     3:39
3. "Dead Yankee Drawl"     3:46
4. "Ain't Goin' Down"     3:08

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1992) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart [13] 7
Irish Singles Chart [14] 12
Swedish Singles Chart [15] 21

UK Chart Performance[edit]

UK Top 40
Week 01 02 03 04 05
Position
9
7
9
16
32

Cover recorded versions[edit]

  • Grady Tate recorded a soul-jazz version of the song for his 1970 album After the Long Drive Home.
  • Al De Lory recorded a jazz piano version for his 1970 album Al De Lory Plays Song from M*A*S*H. This version peaked at #7 on the adult contemporary chart during the summer of 1970.[16]
  • Henry Mancini recorded an easy listening version for his 1970 album Mancini Plays the Theme from Love Story.
  • Andre Kostelanetz recorded an easy listening version for his 1970 album Everything Is Beautiful.
  • Fung Bo Bo recorded a female-vocal version (in English) on a Malaysian EP (MMI Top 21006) in 1970.
  • Ahmad Jamal recorded an instrumental jazz-funk version for his 1974 album Jamalca. This version was included on some re-releases of the soundtrack album. Jamal recorded another version of the tune for his 1985 album Digital Works.
  • Roy Ayers recorded an instrumental version for his 1974 album Change Up the Groove.
  • Paul Desmond recorded an instrumental version for his 1974 album Pure Desmond.
  • 101 Strings recorded an easy listening version for their 1975 album T.V. Themes.
  • Kerstin Forslund and the Small Town Singers released a version in 1975.[17] The single peaked at 17th position in Sweden,[18] Top 100 chart in Australia.
  • Norrie Paramor recorded an instrumental version for his 1975 album Radio 2 Top Tunes Vol. 3.
  • Ray Conniff recorded an easy listening version for his 1976 album Theme from S.W.A.T. and Other TV Themes.
  • Bill Evans recorded a jazz piano trio version for You Must Believe in Spring, an album posthumously released in 1980, having made it a staple of his live sets for some years. Evans' version modulates through 4 keys. The song is also recorded in a jazz piano trio version on the CD Bill Evans Trio, recorded live in Buenos Aires in 1979.
  • Cal Tjader recorded a version for his 1981 album The Shining Sea.
  • Franck Pourcel recorded a version for his 1982 album Palmes D'or.
  • Jimmy Smith recorded a version for his 1982 album Off the Top.
  • Art Of Noise perform a short instrumental interpolation on their 1984 track "A Time for Fear (Who's Afraid)", featured on both Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise? and Daft.
  • Sue Raney recorded a vocal version for her 1988 album Quietly There.
  • Royal Trux recorded a version for the BBC John Peel radio show in 1993. It was released in 1997 on a Royal Trux compilation called Singles, Live, Unreleased. On the compilation the song is titled "Theme from M.A.S.H."
  • Killarmy sampled the music for their 1997 track "5 Stars" from the Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars album.
  • Edgar Cruz recorded an instrumental cover of the song for his 1997 album Reminiscence titled "M*A*S*H Theme".
  • Jay-Jay Johanson performed a version of this song on France Inter in 1997, later released on a promotional CD. In 2011 it appeared on his album Spellbound.
  • Marilyn Manson did a version for the soundtrack of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in 2000.
  • Barði Jóhannsson and Keren Ann recorded a version for their 2003 album Lady and Bird.
  • Stewie Griffin (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) sang a part of it in Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story in 2005.
  • Matt Costa, singer-songwriter from Huntington Beach, California, USA covered the song on his six-track The Elasmosaurus EP in 2005.
  • Kelis does her own interpretation of the song in her single "Lil Star" (with Cee-Lo), released in 2007.
  • The Drones performed an acoustic version in 2008 on Triple J in Australia.
  • Ania Dąbrowska recorded a version of this song for her 2010 album Ania Movie.
  • Amanda Lear recorded an acoustic and a dance version of this song for her 2009 album Brief Encounters.
  • Tripod did a short acoustic rendition of the theme in the song "Lingering Dad". Additionally, portions of the theme were later used in the song "Theme from Mash Guy" – a comedic song about a fictionalised writer of the song in an existentialist crisis over being known only as "the theme from M*A*S*H guy".
  • The Crackling has a cover on their 2012 EP "Ashen".

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Interview with Johnny Mandel". JazzWax.com. October 24, 2008. Bob said to me, 'You know, I need a song for the film. It’s that Last Supper scene, after the guy says he’d going to do himself with a pill because his life is over, because couldn’t get it up with the WAC the night before.' 
  2. ^ Michael L. LaBlanc. "Gale Musician Profiles: Johnny Mandel". The Gale Group. The Theme for M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) wasn’t intended to be the theme of the motion picture. It was written in 1970 for the "Last Supper" scene and was actually intended to be played by one of the actors. It had to be written before the movie was actually shot. 
  3. ^ "Interview with Johnny Mandel". JazzWax.com. October 24, 2008. Bob also said the song had to be called 'Suicide Is Painless'. 'Since [Capt.] Painless commits suicide with a pill, that would be a good title,' he said. Then he said, 'It’s got to be the stupidest song ever written.' 
  4. ^ "Interview with Johnny Mandel". JazzWax.com. October 24, 2008. Bob was going to take a shot at the lyrics. But he came back two days later and said, 'I’m sorry but there’s just too much stuff in this 45-year-old brain. I can’t write anything nearly as stupid as what we need.' 
  5. ^ "Interview with Johnny Mandel". JazzWax.com. October 24, 2008. Bob said, "All is not lost. I’ve got a 15-year-old kid who’s a total idiot." So Michael Altman, at age 15, wrote the lyrics, and then I wrote the music to them. 
  6. ^ Michael L. LaBlanc. "Gale Musician Profiles: Johnny Mandel". The Gale Group. His 14-year-old son, Mike Altman, was enlisted and wrote the lyrics in five minutes to which Mandel later added the melody. 
  7. ^ Michael L. LaBlanc. "Gale Musician Profiles: Johnny Mandel". The Gale Group. Later when the movie was being edited, Mandel heard the song being played over the film’s title in the helicopter scene and protested, saying, "It was the stupidest thing I have ever seen," and angrily walked out insisting it didn’t fit. The studio ignored his protest. 
  8. ^ "Mash, The – Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) (7", Single) at Discogs". Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 381. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  10. ^ "dutchcharts.nl – M*A*S*H – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  11. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40: week 39, 1970" (in Dutch). Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  12. ^ "Chart Stats – MASH – Theme from 'M*A*S*H' (Suicide Is Painless)". Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  13. ^ a b "Chart Stats – Manic Street Preachers/Fatima Mansions – Theme from M*A*S*H/(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  14. ^ "irishcharts.ie search results". Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  15. ^ "swedishcharts.com – Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M.A.S.H)". Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  16. ^ Adult Contemporary : July 04, 1970 | Billboard Chart Archive. Billboard.com (1970-07-04). Retrieved on 2014-03-29.
  17. ^ "Suicide Is Painless" (in Swedish). Svensk mediedatabas. 1975. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  18. ^ "Suicide Is Painless" (in Swedish). Hitparad. 1975. Retrieved 25 November 2013.