Some artists are lucky if they have a defining moment in their musical career, David Bowie had too many to mention. But most certainly one of those moments, a reflection of the zeitgeist of the changing world and the artist who took them there, was when he officially introduced the world to his rock and roll alien, Ziggy Stardust, in his titular album. The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders of Mars not only defined a generation of glam rock kids who sat sparkly and sparkly, ready for their rocket out of the mundane, but presented David Bowie as an artist like no other.
The album contained a series of songs that told the story of Ziggy and how, in his attempt to save humanity, he found himself cast like the rock star in the fateful production of the world. There are moments throughout the album that deserve huge recognition as one of Bowie’s best work. Spread across various styles and genres, the king of glam rock really took one track in particular, “Suffragette City” up a notch. However, the song was never meant to be on record at all.
The track was originally written for another band but was turned down by Mott The Hoople. Band frontman Ian Hunter said of the track, “I didn’t think it was good enough,” choosing to take “All The Young Dudes; from Bowie’s hands as their next single. Of course, this would prove to be a success for Mott the Hoople and Bowie found himself trying to adapt the song to the album. However, with music inspired by 1950s superstars like Jerry Lee Lewis, she became the replacement for Chuck Berry’s cover of Bowie, which had been slated for the album. Although the “Round and Round” cover was officially replaced with “Starman”, it was “Suffragette City” that provided the balance to make the change possible.
Super loaded with the electric riff Ronson brought up, it was Ziggy and his Spiders in high gear. It was one of the fiercest moments on the album and saw Bowie transcend himself into a formidable rocker. Often thought of as the kind of songs a truly alien band would sing, it’s a notion punctuated by the closing cries of “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am!” (a line Bowie stole from Charles Mingus) and gilded by the sparkle of glam rock glory that resonates with every note. It’s about as perfect a time in Ziggy’s career as you’ll find it, as it encapsulated everything it was back then: sexual, dangerous, and ultimately unpredictable.
The song acts as a sexually charged dance floor filler as Bowie delivers a scrambled storyline that sees our protagonist bemoan his roommate’s mistakes in preventing him from fucking. The track’s unusual lyric and delivery set may have been inspired by Bowie’s new lyric writing technique, something he learned from Beat writer William S Burroughs, but is more closely related to the historical novel by Anthony Burgess and The ultra-violent film by Stanley Kubrick, A clockwork orange.
Bowie had already completed much of “Suffragette City” before he and Mick Ronson went to see Kubrick’s film in January 1972, but the film influenced the final track. “I liked the malicious, slimy quality kind of these four guys [in A Clockwork Orange]”Bowie recalls in 1993,” although the aspects of the violence themselves didn’t particularly turn me on … Even the inset photographs on Ziggy’s inner sleeve owed a lot to the Malcolm McDowell look of the poster – the kind of photograph somewhere between a beetle, not a Beatles person, but a real beetle and violence.
Bowie would also rely on the career-defining Nadsat dialect of Burgess used in the book. “The whole idea of having this false language thing – making fun of Anthony Burgess in Russian,” continued the Starman, “who took inspiration from Russian words and put them in the English language, and twisted old Shakespearean words – that kind of bogus language… was exactly what I was trying to do by creating this false world or this world that hadn’t happened yet.
There’s a good shout out to say that ‘Suffragette City’ is a song that characterizes everything we know and love about David Bowie. As well as being everything Ziggy was too, the aforementioned adventurous rocker with a sex penchant, he’s also seen Bowie the artists tap into his own life, the culture around him, and the literature to provide candid insight. of the way rock and roll should be. It is a timeless song that should be played loudly at every opportunity.
The song was originally released as the B-side of “Starman”, but found a whole new release in 1976 as a standalone single.