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Suffragette City

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"Suffragette City"
The B-side LP label of David Bowie's single "Suffragette City"
UK single B-side label
Song by David Bowie
from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released
  • 28 April 1972 (B-side)
  • 16 June 1972 (album)
Recorded4 February 1972
StudioTrident, London
Genre
Length3:25
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars track listing
"Suffragette City"
The cover art of the 1976 single release of David Bowie's "Suffragette City"
Single by David Bowie
from the album Changesonebowie
B-side"Stay"
Released9 July 1976
Format7-inch single
Length3:25
LabelRCA
David Bowie singles chronology
"Stay"
(1976)
"Suffragette City"
(1976)
"Sound and Vision"
(1977)

"Suffragette City" is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie. It was originally released in April 1972 as the B-side of the single "Starman" and subsequently appeared on his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). The song was later reissued as a single in 1976, with the US single edit of "Stay" as the B-side, to promote the compilation album Changesonebowie in the UK. Co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, it was recorded by Bowie at Trident Studios in London with his backing band the Spiders from Mars, consisting of Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey, at a late stage of the album's sessions. The song was originally offered to English band Mott the Hoople, who declined it and recorded Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" instead. It is a glam rock song that is influenced by the music of Little Richard and the Velvet Underground. The lyrics include a reference to Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange and the famous lyric "wham bam, thank you, ma'am".

"Suffragette City" received critical acclaim from music critics, with many praising the guitar work, the band's performance, the false ending, the famous lyric and the song's power. It has subsequently been called one of Bowie's greatest songs by multiple publications, including NME. Bowie performed the song frequently during his concert tours and it has appeared on multiple compilation albums. It has been remastered several times, including 2012 for the 40th anniversary of the album; this version was included as part of the 2015 box set Five Years (1969–1973).

Composition and recording[edit]

"Suffragette City" was recorded on 4 February 1972 at Trident Studios, London, towards the end of the Ziggy Stardust sessions.[1][2] Also recorded during this session were "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" and "Starman".[1] It was co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott and recorded with Bowie's backing band the Spiders from Mars, consisting of Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey.[3] Before recording it himself, Bowie offered "Suffragette City" to Mott the Hoople, an English band he greatly admired, provided they forgo their plan to break up. The group refused but recorded Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" instead.[1][2][4]

The track is a glam rock song, with elements of proto-punk and hard rock.[5][6][7][8] The piano riff was heavily influenced by the music of Little Richard. The song features one of Bowie's earliest uses of the ARP synthesiser, which would later become the backbone of his Berlin Trilogy.[2] The instrument was used to mimic a saxophone, which underscores the guitar throughout the track. Bowie composed the riff, while Scott used the ARP located at Trident to find the right sound and Ronson played the notes.[2][9] The backing vocals move from the left channel in the first verse to the right in the second.[9] According to biographer Peter Doggett, while other rock songs such as the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" and the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night" use a standard three-chord structure that is spaced "two and three semitones apart" (such as E-G-A or A-G-C), "Suffragette City" uses tighter, two-semitone gaps (F-G-A), which "leaves the ear to expect a softer A minor as the root of the song, only for a decisive A major chord to appear instead". Doggett believes that this decision gives the track its "unrelenting power".[9] The track's acoustic guitar instrumentation was played by Bowie, but is mostly buried in the mix under Ronson's electric guitar. After a false ending, Bowie cries "wham bam, thank you, ma'am!" before the band gets back into the groove, finishing with Bowie shrieking "Suffragette!"[10]

According to Doggett, before "Suffragette City", the only popular song to contain "suffragette" in its title was "Sister Suffragette", from the 1964 film Mary Poppins. He argues the film's song has more to do with women's liberation than "Suffragette City" does.[8] "Suffragette City" includes the lyric "Ah droogie, don't crash here", a direct reference to the Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange (1962); Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation was a major influence on Ziggy Stardust's cultural grab-bag, dictating both costumes and pre-show music on tour.[2] The song was written only a few months after the film's release in 1971.[11] The famous, "sexually charged" hook "wham bam, thank you, ma'am!" previously appeared as the title of a song on jazz bassist Charles Mingus's 1961 album Oh Yeah, as well as a 1967 song by the Small Faces.[8] Bowie also uses the "hey man!" backing vocals from the Velvet Underground's 1968 song "White Light/White Heat", a line from the 1970 song "I Found Out" by John Lennon, a Marc Bolan-esque boogie, "some Flamin' Groovies speed, some Jerry Lee Lewis swagger", and a "dose of hard rock theatrics" to finish it out.[8][12]

Release and reception[edit]

"Suffragette City" was originally released on 28 April 1972 by RCA Records as the B-side of Bowie's single "Starman" (as RCA 2199).[13][14] It was subsequently released as the 10th and penultimate track on his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, on 16 June of that year.[15][16] RCA reissued the track as the A-side of a single (RCA 2726) on 9 July 1976,[2] to promote the compilation album Changesonebowie in the UK, with the US single edit of the Station to Station track "Stay" as the B-side.[17] The single failed to chart.[2]

Since its release, "Suffragette City" has received critical acclaim, with many writers praising the guitar work. In a review of Ziggy Stardust on its release, Richard Cromelin of Rolling Stone called "Suffragette City" Bowie's "supreme moment as a rock & roller".[18] Noting the Velvet Underground influence, he praised the guitar work in the second half and the false ending, writing that the lyric "Oooohh Wham Bam Thank you Ma'am!" brings you back into it and would make you want to do somersaults. Cromlin concluded by saying that there's only one thing left for the Star, quoting the lyric "There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes".[18] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic praised Ronson's guitar work, writing, "[Ronson] plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like 'Suffragette City', 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Hang On to Yourself'".[19] Ned Raggett, also of AllMusic, noted the influence of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, which was previously seen on the Hunky Dory track "Queen Bitch", but found an overall better result in "Suffragette City".[12] Raggett similarly praised Ronson's guitar work, acknowledging it as both a glam trademark and rock trademark. He further complimented the keyboards and piano, saying they add to song's power and drive. Of the lyrics, Raggett said that some seem like "bad ideas" but that the false ending and famous hook make up for it.[12]

Ian Fortnam of Louder, in a review ranking every song on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars from worst to best, placed "Suffragette City" at number five, calling it "Ziggy's most reconstructed rocker".[20] Also praising the false ending and famous hook, he ends his review by describing the track as "glam rock in excelsis".[20] Jordan Blum, writing for PopMatters, described "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust" as the album's standout tracks that are "still endlessly addicting and pleasantly infectious" 40 years later.[3] He adds that both songs have "archetypal" guitar riffs that, together with the instrumentation and dynamics, make for phenomenal recordings. Blum concluded his review praising this track's hook, chorus and horns, while acknowledging it as "one of the best anthemic tracks ever made".[3] In 2018, the writers of NME listed "Suffragette City" as Bowie's 14th greatest song.[21] In 2015, Ultimate Classic Rock placed the track on their list of the top 200 songs of the 1970s, writing, "this song underscored Bowie's broad interests – he pulled in references from Charles Mingus and A Clockwork Orange – even as it showcased his willingness to experiment with things like the ARP synth".[22]

Live versions and subsequent releases[edit]

On 16 May 1972, Bowie recorded "Suffragette City" for the BBC radio programme Sounds of the 70s, presented by John Peel; the session was broadcast one week later.[23] In 2000, this recording was released on the compilation album Bowie at the Beeb.[24] Pegg called the performance "excellent", praising Ronson's "sharp" guitar work and the boogie-woogie piano-playing from Nicky Graham.[2] The song was frequently performed by Bowie during concert tours throughout his career. Performances from the Ziggy Stardust Tour (1972–1973) have appeared on the live albums Live Santa Monica '72 (2008) and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1983),[25][26] the final concert of the tour at which Bowie unexpectedly announced it as "the last show we'll ever do".[27] Performances from the 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour have appeared on David Live (1974) and Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74) (2017).[28][29] A performance from the 1976 Isolar Tour was released on Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (2017),[30] while performances from the 1978 Isolar II Tour were included on the 2017 edition of Bowie's live album Stage and Welcome to the Blackout (2018).[31][32]

Since its release, "Suffragette City" has appeared on numerous compilation albums, including Changesonebowie (1976),[33] Changesbowie (1990),[34] The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997),[35] and Best of Bowie (2002).[36] The song, along with the entire Ziggy Stardust album, has been remastered multiple times, including in 1990 by Rykodisc,[37][38] and 2012 for its 40th anniversary.[39] The 2012 remaster and the 2003 remixes, by producer Ken Scott, were included as part of the box set Five Years (1969–1973) in 2015.[40]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie.[14][17]

1972 B-side single
  1. "Starman" – 4:10
  2. "Suffragette City" – 3:25
1976 A-side single
  1. "Suffragette City" – 3:25
  2. "Stay" – 3:21

Personnel[edit]

Personnel per Kevin Cann and Chris O'Leary.[41][13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Cann 2010, p. 242.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Pegg 2016, p. 477.
  3. ^ a b c Blum, Jordan (12 July 2012). "David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  4. ^ Roberts 1998, p. 282.
  5. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time : 35 – David Bowie, 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars'". Rolling Stone. 31 May 2012. Archived from the original on 5 March 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  6. ^ Berman, Stuart (29 September 2010). "David Bowie: Station to Station (Deluxe Edition)". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 21 October 2010. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  7. ^ HistoryCaps 2012, pp. 15–16.
  8. ^ a b c d Doggett 2012, p. 167.
  9. ^ a b c Doggett 2012, p. 168.
  10. ^ Doggett 2012, pp. 167–168.
  11. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 112.
  12. ^ a b c Raggett, Ned. ""Suffragette City" – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 4 July 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  13. ^ a b O'Leary 2015, p. 290.
  14. ^ a b "Starman" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1972. RCA 2199.CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ "Happy 43rd Birthday to Ziggy Stardust". davidbowie.com. 16 June 2015. Archived from the original on 4 July 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  16. ^ The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1972. SF 8287.CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ a b "Suffragette City" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1972. RCA 2726.CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ a b Cromelin, Richard (20 July 1972). "The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  19. ^ 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 15 March 2020.
  20. ^ a b Fortnam, Ian (11 November 2016). "Every song on David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust ranked from worst to best". Louder. Archived from the original on 26 August 2019. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  21. ^ Barker, Emily (8 January 2018). "David Bowie's 40 greatest songs – as decided by NME and friends". NME. Archived from the original on 3 November 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  22. ^ "Top 200 '70s Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock. 6 November 2015. Archived from the original on 9 November 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  23. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 1,096.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Joe, Viglione. "Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  27. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 165.
  28. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "David Live – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  29. ^ Randle, Chris (29 June 2017). "David Bowie: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74)". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  30. ^ "Live Nassau Coliseum '76 – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  31. ^ Stage (CD liner notes). David Bowie. UK: Parlophone. 2017. 0190295842796.CS1 maint: others (link)
  32. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78) – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  33. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (24 May 2016). "David Bowie: Changesbowie Album Review". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 10 September 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  34. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Changesbowie – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 28 July 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  35. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 8 May 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  36. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Best of Bowie – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  37. ^ "The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars [Bonus Tracks]". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  38. ^ The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (liner notes). David Bowie. US: Rykodisc. 1990. RCD 10134.CS1 maint: others (link)
  39. ^ The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (liner notes). David Bowie. Europe: EMI. 2012. 5099946361417.CS1 maint: others (link)
  40. ^ Five Years (1969–1973) (Box set liner notes). David Bowie. UK, Europe & US: Parlophone. 2015. DBXL 1.CS1 maint: others (link)
  41. ^ Cann 2010, pp. 242, 252.
Sources

External links[edit]