Suicide Is Painless

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"Suicide Is Painless"
The Mash Suicide Is Painless single cover.jpg
Single by The Mash
from the album M*A*S*H (Original Soundtrack Recording)
B-side"The M*A*S*H March"
Released1970
Recorded1969
Length2:53
LabelColumbia/CBS
Composer(s)Johnny Mandel
Lyricist(s)Mike Altman
Producer(s)Thomas Z. Shepard
Music video
"Suicide Is Painless" (audio) on YouTube

"Suicide Is Painless" is a song written by Johnny Mandel (music) and Michael Altman (lyrics) for the 1970 film M*A*S*H. In addition to being performed by characters in the film, it plays during the title sequence as sung by The Ron Hicklin Singers. An instrumental version is likewise the theme music for the TV series based on the film, playing over the opening and closing credits.

Background[edit]

The song was written for Ken Prymus, the actor playing Private Seidman, to sing during the faux-suicide of Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck) in the film's "Last Supper" scene.[1][2] Director Robert Altman had two stipulations about the song for composer Johnny Mandel: it had to be called "Suicide Is Painless" and it had to be the "stupidest song ever written".[3] Altman attempted to write the lyric himself, but, upon finding it too difficult for his "45-year-old brain" to write something "stupid" enough,[4] he gave the task to his 14-year-old-son Michael, who reportedly wrote the lyrics in five minutes.[5][6][7]

Altman later decided that the song worked so well he would use it as the film's main theme.[8] This more choral version was sung by uncredited session singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin, and Ian Freebairn-Smith, and was released as a single attributed to "The Mash". Altman said that, while he only made $70,000 for directing the movie, his son had earned more than $1 million for co-writing the song.[9]

Several instrumental versions of the song were used as the theme for the TV series, but the lyrics were never used in the show.[10] It became a number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart in May 1980.[11] The song was ranked No. 66 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.

Track listing[edit]

7″ vinyl

  • West Germany: CBS / 5009
  • UK: CBS / S CBS 8536
  • US: Columbia / 4M-45130 [mono promo only]
  • US: Columbia / 4S-45130 [original stereo stock release]
A-side
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."Theme from M*A*S*H Suicide Is Painless"Johnny Mandel, Mike AltmanThe Mash2:53
B-side
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."The M*A*S*H March"MandelJohnny Mandel1:19

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1970) Peak
position
Dutch GfK chart[12] 3
Dutch Top 40[13] 4
Chart (1980) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[14] 52
UK Singles Chart[15] 1
Irish Singles Chart 1

Manic Street Preachers version[edit]

"Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"
Manic Street Preachers Suicide Is Painless single cover.jpg
Single by Manic Street Preachers
from the album Ruby Trax
B-side
ReleasedSeptember 7, 1992 (1992-09-07)
GenreAlternative rock, soft rock[16]
Length3:43
LabelColumbia
Songwriter(s)Johnny Mandel (music)
Mike Altman (lyrics)
Producer(s)Manic Street Preachers
Manic Street Preachers singles chronology
"Motorcycle Emptiness"
(1992)
"Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"
(1992)
"Little Baby Nothing"
(1992)

Welsh alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers released a cover version of "Suicide Is Painless" on September 7, 1992, as "Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)". 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' infamous self-mutilation. The single peaked at number 7 in the UK Singles Chart[17] spending three weeks in the Top Ten.

Track listings[edit]

7″ vinyl

  • UK: Columbia / 658382 7
Side A
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"Johnny Mandel, Mike AltmanManic Street Preachers3:40
Side B
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen, Robert John "Mutt" LangeThe Fatima Mansions6:26
  • Netherlands: Columbia / COL 658385 7
Side A
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"Mandel, Altman 
Side B
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Spectators of Suicide"James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore, Richey James Edwards 

12″ vinyl

  • UK: Columbia / 658382 6
Side A
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"Mandel, AltmanManic Street Preachers 
Side B
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"Adams, Kamen, LangeThe Fatima Mansions 
2."Sleeping with the N.M.E." Manic Street Preachers 

CD

  • UK: Columbia / 658382 2
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistLength
1."Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"Mandel, AltmanManic Street Preachers 
2."(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"Adams, Kamen, LangeThe Fatima Mansions 
3."Sleeping with the N.M.E." Manic Street Preachers 
  • Europe: Columbia / 658385 2
No.TitleWriter(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.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)"Mandel, Altman3:43
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 7[17]
Irish Singles Chart[18] 12
Swedish Singles Chart[19] 21

Cover recorded versions[edit]

  • Ahmad Jamal recorded a new version of the song that replaced the version by The MASH on pressings of the soundtrack album beginning in 1973; the film retained the original version.
  • Al De Lory recorded a jazz piano version for his 1970 album Al De Lory Plays Song from M*A*S*H. This version peaked at No. 7 on the adult contemporary chart during the summer of 1970.[20]
  • Kerstin Forslund and the Small Town Singers released a version in 1975.[21] The single peaked at 17th position in Sweden,[22] Top 100 chart in Australia.

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 lyric in five minutes to which Mandel later added the melody.
  7. ^ Francis D. McKinley. "MASH Notes: The Story Behind "Suicide is Painless". Neatorama.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Stamberg, Susan (March 25, 2010). "More Than 'M*A*S*H': Songwriter Johnny Mandel". NPR.org. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "Music of M*A*S*H". MASH4077TV.com. Retrieved October 28, 2021.
  11. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 381. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  12. ^ "dutchcharts.nl – M*A*S*H – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H)" (in Dutch). Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  13. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40: week 39, 1970" (in Dutch). Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  14. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 194. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  15. ^ "The Official Charts Company – MASH – Theme from 'M*A*S*H' (Suicide Is Painless)". Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  16. ^ Burrows, Marc (October 25, 2012). "Old music: Manic Street Preachers – Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)". The Guardian. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  17. ^ a b "Official Charts Company". Official Charts. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  18. ^ "irishcharts.ie search results". Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  19. ^ "swedishcharts.com – Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M.A.S.H)". Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  20. ^ Adult Contemporary : July 04, 1970 | Billboard Chart Archive. Billboard.com (1970-07-04). Retrieved on 2014-03-29.
  21. ^ "Suicide Is Painless" (in Swedish). Svensk mediedatabas. 1975. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  22. ^ "Suicide Is Painless" (in Swedish). Hitparad. 1975. Retrieved November 25, 2013.