Rock 'n' Roll Suicide

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"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
Bowie RockNRollSuicide.jpg
Single by David Bowie
from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released11 April 1974 (1974-04-11)
Recorded4 February 1972
StudioTrident, London
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
David Bowie singles chronology
"Rebel Rebel"
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
"Diamond Dogs"
Official audio
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (2012 Remaster) on YouTube

"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[edit]

Bowie saw the song in terms of the French chanson tradition,[1] 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".[2] Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine similarly found it to have "a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll".[3]

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".[1] 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.[4] Bowie performed Brel's "My Death" during some Ziggy Stardust live shows, and performed "Amsterdam" live on the BBC.

In 2003 Bowie described the James Brown songs 'Try Me' and 'Lost Someone' as "loose inspiration" for the song.[5]

Release and aftermath[edit]

"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", recorded on 4 February 1972,[6] 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.[7]

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".[8] 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.[9]

Bob Dylan played the song on the "Death and Taxes" episode of Season 1 of his Theme Time Radio Hour show in 2007. Afterwards Dylan recalled how Bowie "told everyone he was going to retire after the Ziggy Stardust Tour" then added, "I remember that. I told him not to do it".[10]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by David Bowie.[11]

  1. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" – 2:57
  2. "Quicksand" – 5:03




Live versions[edit]

Other releases[edit]


Chart (1974) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[17] 39
French Singles Chart[citation needed] 30
Ireland (IRMA)[18] 12
UK Singles (OCC)[19] 22


  1. ^ a b Pegg 2000, pp. 174–175.
  2. ^ Buckley 1999, p. 141.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Thompson, Dave. ""Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" – David Bowie". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  5. ^ "David Bowie's Favorite Albums". Vanity Fair. 20 November 2003.
  6. ^ Cann 2010, p. 242.
  7. ^ Carr & Murray 1981, p. 48.
  8. ^ Buckley 1999, p. 244.
  9. ^ "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ranked 2,141st most celebrated song". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Episode 49: Death & Taxes". Theme Time Radio Hour Archive. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  11. ^ "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1974. LPBO 5021.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Joe, Viglione. "Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  15. ^ Buckley 1999, p. 191.
  16. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "David Live – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  17. ^ "David Bowie – Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  18. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Rock 'N' Roll Suicide". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  19. ^ "David Bowie: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 September 2020.

External links[edit]