Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
|"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"|
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars|
|Recorded||4 February 1972|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
|The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars track listing|
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, originally released as the closing track on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on 16 June 1972. Co-produced by Ken Scott, Bowie recorded it with his backing band the Spiders from Mars – comprising Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey. It detailed Ziggy's final collapse like an old, washed-up rock star and, as such, was also the closing number of the Ziggy Stardust live show. In April 1974 RCA issued it as a single.
Music and lyrics
Bowie saw the song in terms of the French chanson tradition, while biographer David Buckley has described both "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" and the album's opening track "Five Years" as "more like avant-garde show songs than actual rock songs". Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine similarly found it to have "a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll".
Although Bowie has suggested Baudelaire as his source, the lyrics "Time takes a cigarette..." are somewhat similar to the poem "Chants Andalous" by Manuel Machado: "Life is a cigarette / Cinder, ash and fire / Some smoke it in a hurry / Others savour it". The exhortation "Oh no, love, you're not alone" references the Jacques Brel song "You're Not Alone" ("Jef") that appeared in the musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Bowie performed Brel's "My Death" during some Ziggy Stardust live shows, and performed "Amsterdam" live on the BBC.
Release and aftermath
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", recorded on 4 February 1972, was one of the last songs recorded for Ziggy Stardust, along with "Suffragette City", which would immediately precede it in the album tracklisting, and "Starman", soon to be issued as a single. As the final song on the album and climax to the Ziggy Stardust live shows throughout 1972–73, it soon became a slogan, appearing on many fans' jackets.
In April 1974 RCA, impatient for new material and having already rush-released "Rebel Rebel" from the Diamond Dogs sessions, arbitrarily picked the song for single release. Two years old, and already in the possession of most Bowie fans through Ziggy Stardust, its release has been labelled simply a "dosh-catching exercise". It stalled at No. 22 in the UK charts – Bowie's first RCA single to miss the British Top 20 since "Changes" in January 1972. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 2,141st most celebrated song in popular music history.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" – 2:57
- "Quicksand" – 5:03
- David Bowie – vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, string arrangement
- Mick Ronson – electric guitars
- Trevor Bolder – bass guitar
- Mick Woodmansey – drums
- Bowie played the song on the BBC show Sounds of the 70s with Bob Harris on 23 May 1972. This was broadcast on 19 June 1972 and in 2000 released on the album Bowie at the Beeb.
- A live version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 has been released on Santa Monica '72 and Live Santa Monica '72.
- The version played at the final Ziggy Stardust concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3 July 1973 was released on Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture. Before beginning the song, Bowie announced: "This is the last show we'll ever do." This was later understood as the retiring of Ziggy Stardust. This version also appeared in the Sound + Vision boxed set.
- In 1974, Bowie recorded a blue-eyed soul version of the song for his live album David Live. Another live recording, from the second leg of the same tour (previously available on the unofficial album A Portrait in Flesh), was released in 2017 on Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74). A live version from the third leg of the tour was released in 2020 on I'm Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74).
- Bowie retired this song from his live repertoire after the 1990 Sound+Vision Tour.
- It was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.
- It also appeared on the following compilations:
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||39|
|French Singles Chart||30|
|UK Singles (OCC)||22|
- Pegg 2000, pp. 174–175.
- Buckley 1999, p. 141.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 10 March 2020. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
- Thompson, Dave. ""Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" – David Bowie". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
- Cann 2010, p. 242.
- Carr & Murray 1981, p. 48.
- Buckley 1999, p. 244.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ranked 2,141st most celebrated song". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1974. LPBO 5021.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Bowie at the Beeb: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68–72 – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
- Thornton, Anthony (1 July 2008). "David Bowie – 'Live: Santa Monica '72' review". NME. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
- Joe, Viglione. "Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
- Buckley 1999, p. 191.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "David Live – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
- "Ultratop.be – David Bowie – Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
- "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Rock 'N' Roll Suicide". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
- "David Bowie: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
- Buckley, David (1999). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-1-85227-784-0.
- Cann, Kevin (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974. Adelita. ISBN 978-0-95520-177-6.
- Carr, Roy; Murray, Charles Shaar (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record. Eel Pie Publishing. ISBN 978-0-38077-966-6.
- Pegg, Nicholas (2000). The Complete David Bowie. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-14-5.