top of page
R | The Songs From A to Z | R

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H| I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | WY | Z

RADIOACTIVITY (Hutter/Schneider/Schult)

The title track of Kraftwerk's 1975 album was played as pre-show music on the Station To Station tour. During Tin Machine's It's My Life tour, David occasionally sang a few lines from the number during the extended rendition of "Heaven's In Here".


RAW POWER (Pop/Williamson)

Mixed by Bowie for Iggy And The Stooges' Raw Power, the title track was later performed on Iggy's 1977 tour. Live versions featuring Bowie can be heard on various Iggy releases.


Produced by David for Mott The Hoople's All The Young Dudes.


  • A-Side: August 1992

  • Bonus: Black Tie White Noise (2003)

  • Download: June 2010

Bowie's first post-Tin Machine single secured only one week in the lower reaches on the UK chart, but provided the faithful with a significant foretaste of things to come. The theme song for the little-seen movie comedy Cool World was the first fruit of Bowie's rekindled relationship with producer Nile Rodgers in the run-up to Black Tie White Noise, foreshadowing that album's fusion of 1990s dance beats with European electro-funk and Middle Eastern saxophone breaks. There are hints, too, of abiding Bowie mythologies in the sketchy lyric, as he sings of "saint-like and fantastic heroes feeling like lost little children in fabled lands."

     Although released in half a dozen remixed forms aimed at club and radio airplay, and supported by a video of scenes from the movie, "Real Cool World" sank without trace. Excepting the soundtrack album Songs From The Cool World, the original album edit appears only as a bonus track on the 2003 reissue of Black Tie White Noise.


In September 1975, shortly after filming The Man Who Fell To Earth and before commencing work on the Station To Station sessions, Bowie dropped into Clover Studios in Los Angeles to contribute backing vocals to this track for what was destined to be an unfinished and unreleased second album by The Who's legendary drummer Keith Moon (his solo debut, Two Sides Of The Moon, had been released six months earlier). The song's writer, Steve Cropper, was the co-author of the Eddie Floyd classic "Knock On Wood" which Bowie had covered the previous year. Cropper was also producing and playing guitar on the track, with Klaus Voorman on bass and Ringo Starr on drums.

     Engineer Barry Rudolph later recalled: "David Bowie came in to do backing vocals. Bowie's entourage looked like a casting call for a circus movie - a pretty freaky-looking crowd that filled up the entire control room. David was very fast at composing and singing, and I don't remember Cropper adding anything to Bowie's ideas - Crop sat back and enjoyed. At one point Bowie asked to ADT his voice, and Cropper turned to me to see if I knew what that was. So I had the satisfaction of being the only person in the control room knowing what he meant. ADT, or Artificial Double Tracking (also called Automatic Double Tracking), was a tape recording trick developed in England for The Beatles and used subsequently by others. Apparently it was du jour for Bowie recording sessions at that time." Rudolph was able to use an old Revox reel-to-reel machine to create "a faux version of ADT that David was okay with."

     "Real Emotion" remained unreleased until it was included as a bonus track on the 1997 CD reissue of Two Sides Of The Moon. It's a jaunty number with a country twang, and although it's far from being Bowie's most substantial achievement of 1975, it's an enjoyable curio.

REAL WILD CHILD (WILD ONE) (O'Keefe/Greenan/Owens)

Co-produced by Bowie for Iggy Pop's Blah-Blah-Blah, "Real Wild Child" took Iggy to number 10 with the first UK hit single of his career.


  • Album: Reality

  • Live: A Reality Tour

  • Live Video: Reality (Tour Edition DVD)/A Reality Tour

The first track to be recorded during the Reality sessions is also the album's loudest, rockiest moment, its thrashing drums and squalling guitar riffs recalling the sensory assault of "Hallo Spaceboy" and some of the more artful Tin Machine pieces, However, underpinning the wall of noise is the classic simplicity of an instantly recognisable acoustic strum that goes right back to Bowie's 1960's recordings: at one point the layers of electric sound even break down, "Space Oddity"-style, to leave only the acoustic guitar as Bowie sings, "I've been right and I've been wrong / Now I'm back where I started from", as if purposely exposing the songwriter behind the rock'n'roller. This is an appropriate sentiment, because the quasi-autobiographical shorthand of "Reality" lies at the heart of the album's loosely managed theme. As Bowie himself said, "The basis is more an all-pervasive influence of contingency than a defined structure of absolutes": in other words, the quest for structure and meaning in life is doomed to failure, because however hard one searches, no pattern will ever emerge - and so, as this song pointedly concludes, "I look for sense but I get next to nothing / Hoo boy, welcome to reality".

     "The thing, probably, that keeps me writing is this awful gnawing feeling that there are no absolutes," Bowie told Los Angeles City Beat. "That there is no truth. That we are, as I've been thinking for so many years now, fully in the swirl of chaos theory." In Interview magazine he elaborated on the same idea: "We set up these plays for ourselves because if we were to open ourselves up to the idea that there is no plan, no evolution, no point in our being here, we could not struggle through to the next day. The days work for us. A stage play will set up certain laws within itself - it doesn't mean they're real laws, they just work for the play which in itself is only a metaphysical arena. You know that line from As You Like It: "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players"? What truth there is in that cliché!"

     Thus, appropriately enough, Reality's title track adopts the form of an artificial narrative, the better to convey the notion that a real life has no formal narrative. Looking back on earlier times, Bowie confesses that he "built a wall of sound to separate us" and "hid among the junk of wretched highs". The second verse turns, as do so many later Bowie songs, to intimations of mortality: the line: "Now my sight is fading in this twilight" recalls the approaching dissolution of "Heathen (The Rays)", while "Now my death is more than just a sad song" offers an elegant pun with its pointed recollection of the Jacques Brel number so beloved of his younger self, in the days when the reality of death lay too far in the future to warrant any contemplation beyond the purely dramatic. "I still don't remember how this happened" sounds like Bowie's variation on John Lennon's famous observation that "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans", while the couplet "I've been right and I've been wrong / Now I'm back where I started from" pertinently recalls the celebrated "I've never done good things / I've never done bad things" line in "Ashes To Ashes". It's a dense, clever, end-of-term report of a song, replete with evocative echoes. Like all of its parent album, the song was performed live throughout A Reality Tour.


  • Download: May 2004

  • A-Side: June 2004

  • European A-Side: June 2004

In March 2004, a mash-up of "Rebel Rebel" and "Never Get Old" created by Endless Noise appeared in a TV advertising campaign for Audi of America, who sponsored the North American leg of A Reality Tour. Over the previous couple of years Bowie had made no secret of his fondness for the then newfangled craze for mash-ups; in 2003, at EMI/Virgin's invitation, Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions had created "I'm Afraid Of Making Plans For Americans" (which combined "I'm Afraid Of Americans" with XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel") and "Jacko Under Pressure" (an ironic pairing of "Under Pressure" with Michael Jackson's "Rock With You"). Towards the end of the year Vidler was contracted by Bowie's organisation to create a further mash-up, and this time the result was "Rebel Never Gets Old", a development of the idea suggested by the Audi commercial. Vidler produced three versions: a 3'25" "Radio Mix", a 7'22" "Seventh Heaven Mix", and a 4'17" edit of the latter. Initially available as a download from May 2004, "Rebel Never Gets Old" was released the following month on 12" picture vinyl and, in some European territories, on a limited edition CD packaged with the Reality album. While the vinyl release reached number 47 in the UK chart, the CD quickly appreciated in value and within two years was selling for sums in excess of £50. The "Radio Mix" was later included on the 2008 Various Artists compilation Rock 100.

     Amid the publicity surrounding "Rebel Never Gets Old", in April 2004 Audi and Sony launched an online remix competition inviting contestants to create their own mash-ups from pre-selected Bowie clips using downloadable software. The winner, announced two months later, was 18-year-old Californian David Choi, whose mash-up "Big Shaken Car" was a combination of "Shake It" and "She'll Drive The Big Car". Choi's prize, appropriately enough, was a 2004 Audi TT Coupé.


  • A-Side: February 1974

  • US A-Side: May 1974

  • Album: Diamond Dogs

  • Live: David Live/Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)/VH1 Storytellers/A Reality Tour/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)

  • Compilation: Sound + Vision

  • Soundtrack: Charlie's Angel: Full Throttle

  • Bonus: Reality/Diamond Dogs (2004)/Re:Call 2

  • Video: Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight/Glass Spider/A Reality Tour/Live Aid/VH1 Storytellers

Released two months ahead of its parent album, "Rebel Rebel" gave little indication of the dark intensity of Bowie's new work. If, as is believed, it was originally written for the aborted Ziggy Stardust musical David was planning in late 1973, its incongruity amid the apocalyptic prog-rock nightmare of Diamond Dogs becomes a little more understandable. Arguably the flimsiest and most disposable product of the album sessions, for all its greatest-hits status "Rebel Rebel" is little more than a bankable retread of previous gender-bending stompers like "The Jean Genie" and "Suffragette City", representing a rare instance of Bowie treading water and playing safe at the height of his 1970s creativity. This is not to suggest it isn't a fine pop song, and moreover one that offers clear evidence of David's proficiency as a guitarist. Bowie plays the lion's share of the lead guitar on "Rebel Rebel", with an additional contribution from "1984" guest guitarist Alan Parker, who added the three descending notes at the end of each loop of the riff.

     Keith Richards, who socialised with Bowie during the Diamond Dogs sessions, is also reputed to play on "Rebel Rebel", and although this rumour is highly unlikely the song's antecedents are obvious. The riff is pure "Satisfaction"-era Rolling Stones - "It's a fabulous riff!" Bowie later recalled, "Just fabulous! When I stumbled onto it, it was 'Oh, thank you!'" - while his pouty-shouty vocal is unadulterated Mick Jagger. Another likely influence is the New York transsexual Wayne (later Jayne) County, a member of the cast of Pork who had been among the Bowie entourage since the time of Ziggy Stardust, and whose 1973 composition "Queenage Baby" included the line "Can't tell whether she's a boy or a girl".

     Viewed historically, "Rebel Rebel" stands as Bowie's valediction to a musical movement that was already heavily in decline. By the beginning of 1974 the trappings and sounds of glam had been annexed by pop's establishment and the charts coarsened by a host of second-generation imitators. In the week that "Rebel Rebel" peaked at number 5 in the UK chart, Suzi Quatro's "Devil Gate Drive" was at number 1 and the top ten also included Alvin Stardust's "Jealous Mind", Mud's "Tiger Feet" and the Bay City Rollers' "Remember". Bowie was by no means the only glam architect peppering his songs with farewell gestures. Roxy Music's November 1973 album Stranded, the first without Brian Eno, signalled a retreat from their glam sound. Alice Cooper released "Teenage Lament '74" ("what a drag it is in these gold lamé jeans), and later in the year Mott The Hoople (now including Mick Ronson, fresh from recording the revealingly titled "Growing Up And I'm Fine") would be asking "Did you see the suits and the platform boots?" in their final hit "Saturday Gigs". Most telling of all was Marc Bolan's February 1974 single, the poignantly titled "(Whatever Happened To The) Teenage Dream?" It was time to move on, and "Rebel Rebel" drew a line beneath Bowie's glam rock career.

     "Rebel Rebel" began to take shape during a solo session at Trident Studios during the week between Christmas 1973 and New Year 1974; this would be David's last known visit to the studio that had been his principal recording venue since 1968. According to David's ghostwritten diary in Mirabelle - not the most reliable of sources - the recording of "Rebel Rebel" was "all completed in three days." The UK single mix bore slight differences to the album version, although subsequent compilations favoured the latter: the original single mix didn't make its digital debut until 2016's Re:Call 2. A radical new edit with additional overdubs was prepared in New York in April 1974 and released briefly as an American single in May, thereafter disappearing until its inclusion on Sound + Vision and 2004's Diamond Dogs reissue. The rough-cut garage sound of the more familiar version is submerged on the alternative mix, which begins at the first "hot tramp" exclamation at around 1'20" in the original cut and is awash with phased echo effects and rattling percussion, while the addition of Geoff MacCormack's congas and the syncopated backing vocals pushes the song, tellingly enough, in a quasi-soul direction. Interestingly it's this version that would be used as the blueprint for nearly every subsequent live rendition until the end of the 1990s.

     On February 13th 1974 a mimed performance of "Rebel Rebel" was recorded at Hilversum's Avro Studio 2 for the Dutch television show Top Pop. Broadcast two days later, it featured David superimposed over flashing disco lights by the miracle of chromakey. This clip, which became the song's semi-official video, premiered Bowie's short-lived pirate image - a spotted neckerchief and black eye-patch which, along with the Ziggy hairstyle, would soon be ditched in favour of the swept-back parting and double-breasted suits of the Diamond Dogs tour. As David later recalled, the eye-patch made a virtue of necessity: "I had conjunctivitis, so I made the most of it and dressed like a pirate. Just stopped short of the parrot! I had this most incredible jacket that I was wearing that night. It was a bottle-green bolero jacket that Freddie [Burretti] made for me and he got an artist to paint, using the appliqué technique, this supergirl from a Russian comic on the back. Anyway, I did a press conference and performed "Rebel Rebel" on Dutch television with a bright red Fender Stratocaster. But I took the jacket off during the press conference and somebody stole it. I was really pissed off." Footage of the Amsterdam press conference, complete with the lamented jacket, can be seen at the start of the BBC documentary David Bowie: Five Years. At around the same time that the documentary aired in 2013 the thief owned up, none too remorsefully: the Dutch poet and rock writer Elly de Waard revealed that she had stolen the jacket because she was angered that Bowie had not granted her an interview, despite what she claimed was her intervention in securing David the Edison award which had brought him to the Netherlands that day. She used the incident as the title of her 2015 memoir Het Jasje van David Bowie.

     A pre-recorded performance of "Rebel Rebel" was scheduled to appear on Top Of The Pops on February 21st 1974, but the promo film failed to arrive at the studio on time and the item was dropped. The cancellation led to rising hopefuls Queen being granted their first Top Of The Pops appearance, in a hastily arranged performance of what would soon become their first hit, "Seven Seas Of Rhye".

     For many years "Rebel Rebel" remained a live standard in Bowie concerts, featuring on every solo tour from Diamond Dogs to Sound + Vision, while an unusual, sax-heavy version appeared in his Live Aid set. By 1990, however, the song had become symbolic of David's fear of entrapment on the greatest hits circuit: "I haven't done "Rebel Rebel" since the Glass Spider thing," he said at the outset of the Sound + Vision tour. "It felt odd then and it feels odder now...the ones that are generationally message-oriented like "Rebel Rebel" I feel very uncomfortable with, and I find I'm throwing them away a bit. I hope it won't show." After 1990, for the best part of a decade it seemed unlikely that Bowie would revive "Rebel Rebel" again, and it came as some surprise when a rock-heavy, back-to-basics version was included on the 1999-2000 dates.

     For the latter dates of the Heathen tour in the autumn of 2002, Bowie unveiled a reworked interpretation which, not unlike the 1974 live version of "The Jean Genie", began with a quiet, minimalist opening verse picked out on rhythm guitar, before plunging into the familiar riff for the choruses. "I hadn't done it in quite a few years," said David, not entirely accurately, "so we restructured it and made it more minimal, and it works really well." This excellent new interpretation was premiered at the live BBC radio session of September 18th 2002, and reappeared throughout A Reality Tour, usually as the opening number. A studio version of the new arrangement, produced by Tony Visconti, was recorded in the initial stages of the Reality sessions and appeared on the June 2003 soundtrack of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (in the film it accompanies the vision of Drew Barrymore resplendent in Aladdin Sane wig and make-up), and later as a bonus track on the two-disc version of Reality and the 2004 reissue of Diamond Dogs.

     Unsurprisingly, "Rebel Rebel" has been performed by a vast number of other artists, and is almost certainly the most frequently covered title in the Bowie songbook. Among its many interpreters are The Bay City Rollers, Joan Jett, Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Rick Derringer, Def Leppard, Smashing Pumpkins, Dead Or Alive, The Mike Flowers Pop, Shaun Cassidy, Bruce Lash, Lyn Todd, Rickie Lee Jones, Seu Jorge, Adamski (under his early moniker The Legion Of Dynamic Discord), Jean Meilleur, Sharleen Spiteri, Steve Mason and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, whose live recording can be heard on David Bowie Songbook. Iggy Pop and Lenny Kravitz joined forces on a live version at 1998's VH1 Fashion Awards, while in May 2011 Florence Welch of Florence And The Machine dedicated a performance of "Rebel Rebel" at New York's annual Costume Institute Gala Ball to the late Alexander McQueen. Bowie's original recording appeared in the soundtracks of 1999's Detroit Rock City, 2006's Failure To Launch, 2007's The Heartbreak Kid, 2009's Bandslam and 2010's The Runaways (directed by Bowie's video collaborator Floria Sigismondi), and was used in trailers for the 2008 film Son Of Rambow. "Rebel Rebel" also has the dubious honour of being one of the earliest Bowie songs to feature in a commercial: it was used to advertise "Rebel" perfume in the mid-1970s. In 2004 the song was subjected to a number of mash-up remixes with "Never Get Old" and used in an advertising campaign for Audi cars (see "Rebel Never Gets Old"). In June 2008 "Rebel Rebel" was selected on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs by comedian Bill Bailey, and in October 2013 by naturalist Chris Packham, whose penchant for smuggling Bowie song titles into his live commentaries on the BBC's Springwatch series had made headlines the previous year.

RED MONEY (Bowie/Alomar)

  • Album: Lodger

Musically Lodger's closing track is a straight retread of Bowie's 1976 Iggy Pop collaboration "Sister Midnight", and has been widely dismissed as an inferior remake. This is unfortunate because, with its brand-new set of lyrics, "Red Money" has an intrigue all its own. Bowie explained in 1979 that the "small red box" was a reference to a recurring image he used in his paintings: "This song, I think, is about responsibility. Red boxes keep cropping up in my paintings and they represent responsibility." Accordingly, "Red Money" ends with the proposition: "Such responsibility, it's up to you and me."

     A constant in Bowie's career is the impulse to smash each edifice he constructs, to "break up the band", to "pack a bag and move on" before stagnation sets in. If the red box is a symbol of responsibility, then the sheer weight of oppression it brings in "Red Money" is hugely revealing: "I could not give it away, and I knew I must not drop it, stop it, take it away!" It's tempting to read "Red Money" as pure metaphor, an artful statement of deconstruction, dismantling the European phase that had begun in 1976 with the recording of the original "Sister Midnight". It is, after all, the last track on Lodger, Eno is gone, and the repeated refrain is "Project cancelled." It may not be deliberate, but it's jolly neat.

RED SAILS (Bowie/Eno)

  • Album: Lodger

The last of Lodger's opening salvo of exotic, continent-hopping tracks is this madly exuberant piece of nonsense, an upbeat slab of new wave pop that might have made a better second single than "D.J.". An obvious keynote is Dusseldorf band Neu!, whose influence on Bowie's music arguably runs deeper than that of their more widely feted compatriots Kraftwerk. Like "Beauty And The Beast" before it, "Red Sails" owes a debt to Neu!'s 1975 track "Hero", but more especially to a piece dating from the same year by Neu! guitarist Michael Rother's parallel project Harmonia, the band in which he recorded with other musicians including the electronic duo Cluster. The structure, tempo and chord changes of Harmonia's 1975 track "Monza (Rauf Und Runter)" are so close to "Red Sails" that you can sing Bowie's lyrics along to it. According to David, "That drum and guitar sound, that especially" derived from the Dusseldorf band, but "The moments of difference...came from Adrian [Belew] not being played Neu!; he'd never heard them. So I told him the atmosphere I wanted and he came up with the same conclusions that Neu! came up with, which was fine by me. That Neu! sound is fantastic."

     Against a backdrop of German and Far Eastern motifs, and bellowing back-up vocals shared with Tony Visconti, Bowie unleashes one of his most devil-may-care vocal performances. Speaking in 1979, David explained: "Here we took a new German music feel and put it against the idea of contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn, and put him in the China Sea. We have a lovely cross-reference of cultures. I honestly don't know what it's about." Maybe, but there are obvious thematic comparisons with the nomadic self-portrait found throughout the album: "Wake up in the wrong town, boy I really get around."

     "Red Sails" was performed during the early leg of the Serious Moonlight tour.


REFLEKTOR (Arcade Fire)

In the spring of 2013, Bowie dropped into New York's Electric Lady Studios and contributed some brief but spirited backing vocals to the title track of Reflektor, the fourth studio album by his old friends Arcade Fire. "It was just after The Next Day had come out," band member Richard Reed Parry told the NME. "He basically just came by the studio in New York while we were mixing, just to have a listen to the stuff we were doing. He offered to lend us his services because he really liked the song."

     A departure from Arcade Fire's previous work, the pulsing seven-and-a-half-minute "Reflektor" evokes nothing so much as Sparks during their Giorgio Moroder period. In September 2013 a shorter 5'20" radio edit was released as a single (credited to the nonexistent band "The Reflektors"), followed by the album the following month. Reflektor was co-produced by LCD Soundsystem's frontman James Murphy, with whom Bowie hit it off in the studio; not long afterwards, he invited Murphy to create the remix of "Love Is Lost" which was included on The Next Day Extra, and two years later Murphy would contribute to the Blackstar sessions.

REMEMBERING MARIE A. (Traditional, adapted Brecht/Muldowney)

  • B-Side: February 1982

  • Download: January 2007

The second track on the Baal EP is a typically Brechtian collision of bitterness and sentimentality: Baal finds it easier to recall the cloud drifting overhead during a long-ago liaison than the face of the girl herself. Brecht's ironic working title was "Sentimental Song no. 1004", and he adapted the music from a traditional nineteenth-century melody called "Lost Happiness" which he had heard sung by factory girls. He described it as "a hymn to summer...a song of the countryside, its swansong." Bowie rises to the occasion with an immaculately judged vocal performance: at once tender and flinty, it is authentically Brechtian and exceptionally beautiful.

     In November 2009 "Remembering Marie A." became perhaps the most unusual and obscure Bowie recording ever to feature on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, when it was selected by the author Julia Donaldson, best known for her children's book The Gruffalo. As Donaldson explained on the programme, it was a choice laden with personal significance: the song had been a favourite of her son Hamish, who suffered from a psychiatric illness and committed suicide at the age of 25.


  • Album: Lodger

  • B-Side: June 1979

Lodger's vignettes of Western civilisation continue with this sombre excursion into the unusually direct topic of domestic violence. "I had known more instances of this behaviour than I would have preferred to have been made aware of," Bowie later explained, "and could not for the life of me imagine how someone could hit a woman, not only once but many, many times." Over a hypnotic pulse of drunken bass, wavering synthesizers and discordant guitars Bowie's numbed vocal sketches the portrait of a frustrated, mediocre husband who "could have had a Cadillac if the school had taught him right, and he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse", and so vents his impotent anger on his wife: "I guess the bruises won't show if she wears long sleeves". Inevitably reminiscent of Lou Reed's similarly-themed "Caroline Says", it's probably Bowie's most unambiguous attack on a specific social ill until the days of Tin Machine - but its subtle power is something they would seldom achieve. "There's a numbness to the whole rhythm section that I try to duplicate with a deadpan vocal, as though I'm reading a report rather than witnessing the event," Bowie observed many years later. "I used to find this quite easy to accomplish." Unusually among the Lodger tracks, the working title was close to the finished version: it was recorded as "Emphasis On Repetition", suggesting that the title alludes as much to the relentless backing track as to the lyrics, which were written later.

     After languishing in relative obscurity for nearly twenty years, "Repetition" was unexpectedly reworked in 1997 for Radio 1's ChangesNowBowie. "I wanted to try it acoustically because it was so much an electronic piece of work on the album," Bowie explained. "I wanted to see what it was made of just as a song, when it was really stripped down, and it's interesting to see how something that's really so minimal works quite well as a straightforward rendition." On January 9th 1997 a performance was recorded backstage at Madison Square Garden for inclusion in the pay-per-view broadcast of Bowie's fiftieth birthday concert. Thereafter the song was revived for the 'hours...' tour, during which another BBC version surfaced in the live set recorded on October 25th 1999.

     New wave band The Au Pairs, a boy/girl outfit noted for their exploration of gender politics, included an interesting cover version with female lead vocals on their 1981 album Playing With A Different Sex.


REPTILE (Reznor)

Bowie joined Nine Inch Nails to perform their song from The Downward Spiral during the Outside tour's US leg.


The full title of this discarded 1968 composition, at one time pencilled in for inclusion on David's mooted second album for Deram, is "The Reverend Raymond Brown (Attends The Garden Fete On Thatchwick Green)". As the titular similarity with The Kinks' 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society suggests, David was tapping into the voguish whimsy of the British psychedelia scene: the polished demo reveals a wistful, mid-tempo number with a distinct flavour of Ray Davies and a generous side-helping of "Eleanor Rigby", as Bowie wanders through a bucolic village fete, hopping from character to colourful character: "Mrs MacGoony throws her darning aside, and puts on a coat that smells of mothballs and age", while "The magistrate's serving cups of tea from a stall" and "Mrs Grouse makes a fortune reading teacups and palms, while naughty Fitzwilliam helps to lighten the till". As ever in a Bowie lyric, there are undercurrents: "Women's Guild compare their hats and chatter hard about this and that / And isn't it a shame that little Sally's in the family way? (note that it is little Sally's second appearance in a Bowie lyric, having previously co-starred in "Uncle Arthur"). Through his flock walks the Reverend Raymond Brown, who is "noting down sin" but isn't immune himself: when the village beauty approaches, "Reverend Raymond Brown turns his red face to the ground / And he mumbles out a prayer cause he fancies her like mad." Derivative it may be, but it's a sweet song, its title character a buttoned-down ancestor of the less benign priests who would continue to appear in Bowie's work from "Five Years" to "The Next Day" and all points in between.


  • Japanese A-Side: November 1979

  • Soundtrack: Just A Gigolo

Bowie's sole contribution to the Just A Gigolo soundtrack is an overlooked rarity. Credited to "The Rebels", it appears on the film's long-deleted soundtrack album and was released in edited form as a Japanese single in 1979. The track is sometimes listed as "David Bowie's Revolutionary Song", as billed on the album and single sleeves, but not on the album's label.

     According to the co-writer and soundtrack supervisor Jack Fishman, the number was composed by David "on the set between scenes. He recorded the accompaniment for his "Revolutionary Song" himself. The track opens with David playing and "la-la-ing", then combines with an instrumental and full chorus version, finally returning to David departing, accompanied by the chorus." Frankly, like much else about Just A Gigolo, this account smacks of a certain desperation; it seems probable that Fishman was simply permitted to expand on what was no more than a doodle in order that he might boast a David Bowie song on his soundtrack album. Bowie's vocal contribution consists only of "la-las", while the backing singers' painfully forced lyrics ("It isn't wrong to be prepared to shouldn't matter if we're brown or white") were quite obviously written and added later. But the overall result is decent enough, evoking the same German pit-band atmosphere as Bowie's later Baal recordings. The instrumental B-side was performed by The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, who feature on the soundtrack album alongside Marlene Dietrich and, bizarrely, The Village People.


  • Album: Let's Dance

Quite the oddest thing on Let's Dance, "Ricochet" avoids the bathos of some of its bedfellows and, if nothing else, deserves credit as the album's only excursion into the experimental realms we had hitherto come to expect on a Bowie record. With no readily discernible melody it relies on a repetitive R&B/swing backing, anticipating the Creole structures of Tonight tracks like "Tumble And Twirl", while Bowie intones bleak images of industrialised communities in a world devoid of spirituality. Stranger still are the deadpan spoken interjections treated with a loud-hailer effect: "Men wait for news while thousands are still asleep, dreaming of tramlines, factories, pieces of machinery, mine-shafts, things like that..." Despite its avant-garde pretensions and enticing reminders of Bowie's earlier Metropolis-inspired dystopias, the resultant whole is distinctly less than the sum of its parts.

     In 1987 Bowie revealed that he "adored" the composition, but "the beat wasn't quite right. It didn't roll the way it should have, the syncopation was wrong. It had an ungainly gait; it should have flowed...Nile [Rodgers] did his own thing on it, but it wasn't quite what I'd had in mind when I wrote the thing." Tony Visconti, meanwhile, singled out "Ricochet" as one of his favourite Let's Dance tracks. It was the only one on the album not to be released as a single or B-side in any territory.


  • Album: Young Americans

  • B-Side: August 1975

  • B-Side: July 2015

  • Bonus: The Gouster

This great track is the funkiest thing on Young Americans and cuts to the heart of the album's James Brown/Stax aspirations. The laid-back bass and the complex syncopation of call-and-response vocals between David and the backing singers lends an air of immaculate sophistication to the lyric's paean to positive thinking. In 1975 Bowie described the song as "putting a positive drone over. People forget what the sound of Man's instinct is - it's a drone, a mantra. And people say, 'Why are so many things popular that just drone on and on?' But that's the point really. It reaches a particular vibration, not necessarily a musical level."

     "Right" is the only Young Americans track to feature backing vocals by David's old friend Geoff MacCormack, credited here as Warren Peace. "With house backing vocalists like Robin Clark and Luther Vandross, they weren't exactly desperate for my input," he later admitted. An alternative early version from the Sigma sessions received its first official release on The Gouster, the "lost album" included with 2016's Who Can I Be Now? box set. The version of "Right" included on the 1991 reissue of Young Americans is a different mix which runs slower than the original and fades earlier. Subsequent reissues have reverted to the original, although a speed-corrected version of the "alternate mix" appeared on the 2015 vinyl single of "Fame".

     In a handwritten note about the mixing of "Right" displayed in the David Bowie is exhibition, David instructs Tony Visconti to "Go back to 1969 for this (Man Who Sold...) the works!! On mid section get Carlos's guitar riff very prominent." Alan Yentob's Cracked Actor documentary captured extensive footage (some of it unseen until 2013's David Bowie: Five Years) of David taking his backing singers through the number during rehearsals for the Soul tour. In the event, perhaps because of its vocal complexity, "Right" was dropped from the set-list, and Bowie never performed it live.


Recorded at Radio Luxembourg's London studios on March 9th-10th 1971, Bowie's 2'39" demo of this Hunky Dory-flavoured composition has appeared on bootlegs. Apparently celebrating an improved relationship with his mother, who according to the lyric has come to terms with David's marriage and lifestyle, the song features a thumping piano very much in the style of "Oh! You Pretty Things". Also in common with that song, it was subsequently recorded by Peter Noone, with Bowie providing piano and backing vocals, during Noone's "Oh! You Pretty Things" session at Kingsway Studios on March 26th. The recording was originally pencilled in as the B-side to Noone's "Pretty Things" single, but producer Mickie Most opted to hold it back as a potential future A-side. In August 1971 Tony Defries wrote to Bob Grace of Chrysalis Music, declaring that he and David did not want Noone's cover of "Right On Mother" to be released until Bowie had had a chance to record his own version. In the event no such recording was made, and Noone's version was released as a single in October 1971, as a double A-side with "Walnut Whirl" (a song co-written by Sandie Shaw and Herbie Flowers). It failed to chart: as a solo artist, Noone would prove to be a one-hit wonder. His recording of "Right On Mother" later appeared on the 1998 Herman's Hermits compilation Original Gold.


  • Album: Ziggy Stardust

  • Live: David Live/Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture/Santa Monica '72/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

  • A-Side: April 1974

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

The final track on Ziggy Stardust is Bowie's own "A Day In The Life", lowering the curtain on a classic album with a majestic arrangement and a closing chord that has become one of rock's magic moments. Like so many great album-closers (Suede plainly had an eye on this song when constructing their 1994 epic "Still Life"), it's a theatrical number that builds from a quiet, acoustic strum into a lush arrangement, given voice by the largest orchestra of the Ziggy Stardust sessions (in addition to the usual string players, Mick Ronson's arrangement required two trumpets, two trombones, two tenor saxes and a baritone sax - the only instance on the album when David didn't play the sax himself). Lyrically "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" spells the dissolution of Ziggy, now a hollow figure caught in the headlights of braking cars as he stumbles across the road. The intimation of mortality which opens the song is a paraphrase of a poem David had read - "something to the effect of life is a cigarette, smoke it in a hurry or savour it," he later explained. He claimed the source was Baudelaire, but in fact it comes from the Spanish poet Manuel Machado's Chants Andalous: "Life is a cigarette, / Cinder, ash, and fire / Some smoke it in a hurry, / Others savour it." In Bowie's own lyrical landscape the image reiterates the dread inhabiting many of the pivotal songs of the Ziggy period, notably "Five Years", "My Death" and "Time".

     Compositionally, "Rock'n'Roll Suicide owes less to the conventional tenets of rock music than to the European chanson tradition. "To go from a fifties rock-flavoured thing with an Edith Piaf nuance on it produced that," Bowie remarked in 2003. "There was a sense of French chanson in there. It wasn't obviously a fifties pastiche, even though it had that rhythm that said total fifties. But it actually ends up being a French chanson. That was purposeful. I wanted that blend, to see if that would be interesting. And it was interesting. Nobody was doing that, at least not in the same way."

     A more specific inspiration, albeit one that Bowie never explicitly acknowledged, is Jacques Brel's 1964 chanson "Jef" which, courtesy of translator Mort Shuman, appeared in the 1966 stage revue Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris under the giveaway title "You're Not Alone". As if to stress the obvious, the song's repeated refrain of "Non, Jef, t'es pas tout seul" appears in Shuman's translation as "No, love, you're not alone". Bowie often cited the show's original cast recording (which also features the Shuman translations of "Amsterdam" and "My Death" that were to become significant items in his own repertoire) as one of  his favourite records, and the lyrical, melodic and dynamic similarities between "You're Not Alone" and "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" are quite unmistakable. As if that weren't enough, another song in the same show is "Les Vieux", translated as "Old Folks", which includes the line "Though you may live in town, you live so far away when you've lived too long", and concludes with the image of a clock "that waits for us all": compare and contrast with Bowie's "And the clock waits so patiently on your song / You walk past the café, but you don't eat when you've lived too long".

     Another source was one of the most prized albums of David's teenage years, James Brown's 1962 release Live At The Apollo (also known by the ungainly title The Apollo Theatre Presents: In Person! The James Brown Show). "Two of the songs on this album, "Try Me" and "Lost Someone", became loose inspirations for "Rock'n'Roll Suicide"," David confirmed many years later. "Brown's Apollo performance still stands for me as one of the most exciting live albums ever." And then of course there's the obvious connection with the drama and sentiment of "You'll Never Walk Alone", the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard which David had performed during his days with The Buzz. Chris O'Leary points out that "don't let the sun blast your shadow" paraphrases another Gerry and the Pacemakers hit, "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying".

     In the studio, the song's vocal dynamics required Bowie to record his vocal in two separate takes, the better to shift gear into the manic climax of the final chorus. "David starts very quietly," explained Ken Scott, "And so in order to get the best sound I had to crank the level, but as you know he eventually becomes a power-house and so I had to change all the settings. The vocal range was quite different for the second half of the song, and so we had to adjust the levels to compensate for that." A similar technique would be used by Tony Visconti for the recording of "Heroes" five years later.

     When planning his aborted stage production of Ziggy Stardust in late 1973 Bowie extrapolated on the song's storyline, telling Rolling Stone that the alien "infinites" would "tear [Ziggy] to pieces on stage during the song "Rock'n'Roll Suicide". As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible." This explicit sci-fi reading seems less satisfactory than the more universal implications of the track itself which, like so much on Ziggy Stardust, seems almost prophetic with regard to its creator's immediate future: "You've got your head all tangled up...I've had my share, so I'll help you with the pain" might be Ziggy addressing David's future self as he heads for the abyss.

     "At this point I had a passion for the idea of the rock star as meteor," said Bowie later. "And the whole idea of The Who's line: "Hope I die before I get old". At that youthful age you cannot believe that you'll lose the ability to be this enthusiastic and all-knowing about the world, life and experience. You think you've probably discovered all the secrets to life. "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" was a declaration of the end of the effect of being young." Hence the cruel irony of Ziggy, who had once declared "let the children lose it", now finding himself "too old to lose it."

     The song concludes on a cautious promise of redemption, although David's cry of "You're not alone, gimme your hands, 'cos you're wonderful!" is a savagely ironic take on the Las Vegas schmaltz that is the last resort of the fallen superstar. It became the most theatrical of Ziggy's stage enactments, as Bowie reached out imploringly to the front row of the audience to touch their outstretched fingertips, whipping them into a frenzy at the end of each concert. Initially, however, audiences took a while to catch on to the idea. "I remember him doing "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", maybe for the first time," recalls David Stopps, who managed the Friars club in Aylesbury where The Spiders played their debut gig on January 29th 1972 - some six days before the studio version of "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" was completed at Trident. "He shouted at the audience, "Gimme your hands, 'cos you're wonderful!", and nobody got up. In those days they used to sit on the floor, and the stage was reasonably high and somebody got up to give him their hands, but only half-heartedly...I remember thinking, "Oh, that's a strong song," but nobody knew it."

     Such apathy was not to last, however: as the Ziggy juggernaut gathered speed over the following months, Bowie's final moment of interplay with the audience became the show's cathartic highlight. The hysteria is brilliantly captured in the film of the final Ziggy concert, first as a huge security guard drags David's vulnerable figure back from the grasping sea of hands (all for theatrical effect, one suspects), and again, seconds later, when an ecstatic young fan makes it onto the stage and hugs David for a split second before being whisked away by the bouncers. The notion of writing a song with an eye specifically on its staging potential was new to David, but would hereafter remain a vital element of his craft. Angela Bowie claimed that she conceived this consummate fusion of music and theatre, urging David to write a song "...where you can go to the front of the stage, and he wrote "give me your hands" looked good when he did that whole sort of messiah thing."

     "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" closed nearly every concert on the Ziggy Stardust tour, from which Mick Rock compiled what he later called a "wonderful" video. The song also closed the Diamond Dogs shows and returned for a few early gigs on the Stage and Sound + Vision tours. A second studio version was recorded at David's BBC session on May 23rd 1972, and can now be heard on Bowie At The Beeb. A superfluous 7" release of the original album track reached number 22 in 1974, a testament to Bowie's commercial stock at the time which unfortunately gave the green light to RCA's money-for-old-rope approach to his back catalogue for the remainder of the decade.

     Foremost among the many cover versions of "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" are a gruesome 1993 recording by Tony Hadley, latterly included on David Bowie Songbook; an extraordinary acoustic version by Hazel O'Connor, now available on 2001's Diamond Gods; and an excellent interpretation by Black Box Recorder, taped for a BBC radio session in 2000 and later included on Uncut magazine's Starman CD. Marc Almond performs the song live on his 2004 DVD Sin Songs, Torch And Romance, while Seu Jorge recorded a Portuguese version for the soundtrack of 2004's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. OK Go included a cover on their 2008 EP "You're Not Alone", and in the same year a live version by Camille O'Sullivan appeared on her album Live At The Olympia. Bowie's original recording features in the 2008 film What We Do Is Secret and the 2010 comedy Bus Palladium.

Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola
Real Emotion
Raw Power
Ready For Love/After Lights
Real Cool World
Real Wild Child (Wild One)
Rebel Never Gets Old
Rebel Rebel
Red Money
Red Sails
Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem The World)
Remembering Marie A.
The Reverend Raymond Brown
The Revolutionary Song
Right On Mother
Rock'n'Roll Suicide
bottom of page