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
  • 16 June 1972 (1972-06-16) (album)
  • 11 April 1974 (single)
Format7-inch single
RecordedFebruary 1972
StudioTrident, London
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
David Bowie singles chronology
"Rebel Rebel"
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
"Diamond Dogs"
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. It detailed Ziggy's final collapse as 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.

Release and aftermath[edit]

"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", recorded on 4 February 1972,[5] was one of the last songs recorded for Ziggy Stardust, along with "Suffragette City", which would immediately precede it in the album track list, 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.[6]

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".[7] 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 1,841st most celebrated song in popular music history.[8]

Track listing[edit]

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

Production credits[edit]


1974 David Live version[edit]

"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"
Song by David Bowie
from the album David Live
VenueTower Theater, Upper Darby, Philadelphia
Songwriter(s)David Bowie

In 1974, Bowie recorded a blue-eyed soul version of the song for his live album David Live.

Live versions[edit]

  • 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: "Everybody... this has been one of the greatest tours of our lives. I would like to thank the band. I would like to thank our road crew. I would like to thank our lighting people. Of all of the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest because not only is it—not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do. Thank you." This version also appeared in the Sound + Vision boxed set.
  • A live recording from the first leg of Bowie's 1974 tour was released on David Live. A 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).
  • Bowie retired this song from his live repertoire after the 1990 Sound+Vision Tour.

Other releases[edit]


Chart (1974) Peak
UK Singles Chart 22
French Singles Chart 30
Irish Singles Chart 12

Cover versions[edit]

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

  • In July 1998, artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard presented a recreation of Ziggy Stardust's farewell concert, titled A Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
  • In the skateboard video, "Sorry" by Flip Skateboards the song is used during Arto Saari's part.
  • It plays over the end credits in the film What We Do Is Secret about the life and death of Darby Crash, the lead singer for the Germs, who committed suicide.
  • It plays during the end scene of the Season 5 finale episode of Ray Donovan. The episode is entitled Time Takes A Cigarette.
  • It features in the Theatre show/drama 'A Rock n Roll Suicide!' from the Theatre of the Wild, Beautiful and Damned, a hit show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019


  1. ^ a b Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.174–175
  2. ^ David Buckley (1999) Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.141
  3. ^ Allmusic album review
  4. ^ Allmusic song review
  5. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: p.242
  6. ^ Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.48
  7. ^ David Buckley (1999) Op Cit: p.244
  8. ^ "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ranked 1,841st most celebrated song". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 15 July 2018.


  • Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5

External links[edit]