Friday, 22 September 2006

Suffragette City

One of my favourite music artists of all time is David Bowie. And my favourite Bowie album of all time is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. And my favourite song from that album is "Suffragette City." Indeed, it is my favourite Bowie song of all time (even more than "Space Oddity"). Just in case you have never heard the song (which given the air play it still gets, I think is unlikely unless you have never listened to rock music at all), here are the lyrics:

Hey man, oh leave me alone you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place

Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work's down the drain
Hey man, well she's a total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she... then she...

Oh don't lean on me man, cause you can't afford the ticket
I'm back on Suffragette City
Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you ain't got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight...she's all right

Hey man, Henry, don't be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can't take you this time, no way
Hey man, droogie don't crash here
There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes


Oh hit me!


A Suffragette City, a Suffragette City
I'm back on Suffragette City, I'm back on Suffragette City
Ooo, Sufraggete city, ooo, Suffragette City
Oooh-how, Sufragette City, oooh-how, Sufragette City, oooh-how

Ohhh, Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!

A Suffragette City, a Suffragette City
Quite all right
A Suffragette City
Too fine
A Suffragette City, ooh, a Sufragette City
Oh, my Sufragette City, oh my Suffragette City
Oh, Suffragette

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a concept album relating the rise and fall of rock star Ziggy Stardust, a messiah from Mars who ultimately fails in his mission to save Earth. "Suffragette City" is the next to last song on the album. Following the song "Ziggy Stardust," which tells of the beginnings of Ziggy's downfall, "Suffragette City" continues that theme. As the song says, " work's down the drain..." At this point in Ziggy's career he had given in wholly to the excess of sex, drugs, and his rock stardom, destroying any chances he had as a messiah.

Oddly enough, even though "Suffragette City" is identified as one of the David Bowie songs and the best song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it was not written for the album. "Suffragette City" existed in some form as early as 1971. Indeed, if things had gone differently, it might not have even been recorded by David Bowie. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople. Rumours to this day persist that a version of the song recorded by Mott the Hoople exists.

The song itself is a mixture of various influences, both music and pop culture wise. Over all the song borrows a good deal from classic rock 'n' roll, both in its piano (borrowed apparently from Little Richard) and its "saxophone (actually an ARP synthesiser)." At the same time, it at times seems reminiscent of the surf music of The Beach Boys (who borrowed heavily from the rock 'n' roll greats as well). The catchphrase "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!" was the title of a song from jazz great Charles Mingus's 1961 album Oh, Yeah. Given Bowie's love of jazz, there can be little doubt that the borrowing was intentional. The song also makes reference to the classic novel and the movie adapted from it A Clockwork Orange in the line "Hey man, droogie don't crash here." In A Clockwork Orange "droog" is a term for a young thug or gangster.

Regardless, I have always loved the song. For me "Suffragette City" is not only one of the most accomplished and well done songs of classic rock, but a darn catchy tune as well.

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