Suicide Is Painless

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"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

Suicide Is Painless” is a song written by Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics), which is best known for having been featured as the theme song for both the movie and TV series M*A*S*H. The actual title is "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)". 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

Other versions[edit]

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)". Retrieved 27 July 2009.  (Dutch)
  11. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40: week 39, 1970". Retrieved 27 July 2009.  (Dutch)
  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.