David Bowie was on a roll when he recorded “Suffragette City”, he was writing enough songs for his own catalog and for others to record. He’d already given Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits “Oh! You Pretty Things”, which was quite a move for the toothsome pop star but, as rock writer Charles Shaar Murray noted, Noone’s version was “one of Rock and Roll’s most outstanding examples of a singer failing to achieve any degree of empathy whatsoever with the mood and content of a lyric.” Noone was possibly thinking about dental hygiene and girls rather than Aleister Crowley and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas are referenced in the song. Bowie had also tried his hand at punting a teenage dress-designer into pop stardom with “Moonage Daydream” and then offered his services to Mott the Hoople.
Hoople were a superb band who hadn’t broken through to the level of success they deserved. Bowie was a fan and on hearing Mott were about to split, offered their lead singer, Ian Hunter, the song “Suffragette City” to record, if the band would stay together. Hunter felt it wouldn’t be a hit, and knew that after a few chart failures he had to have a winner. He therefore asked Bowie for “All the Young Dudes” which Hunter saw as a definite hit, it was and became an anthem for a generation of British youth. “All the Young Dudes” had originally been a part of Bowie’s plan for a concept album that told the story of an alien saving the Earth from destruction, which would become Ziggy Stardust.
“Suffragette City” was written in 1971 and recorded in January 1972. It gives a big nod towards The Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’m”, and references (via the word “droogie”) Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which was the hit film of that year.
Infamously, when Bowie performed “Suffragette City” at the Oxford Town Hall in June 1972, he was photographed by Mick Rock apparently simulating oral sex on Mick Ronson’s guitar. Bowie was actually playing the guitar with his teeth. However, Rock’s photo was so iconic that Bowie convinced his manager, Tony Defries, into buying a whole page of advertising space in the UK music weekly, Melody Maker.
The line-up for the recording of “Suffragette City” was David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar; Mick Ronson: Guitar, piano and ARP synthesizer (which doubles as the saxophone); Trevor Bolder: Bass; Mick Woodmansey: Drums.
David Bowie - Vocals
Mick Ronson - Guitar
David Bowie and Mick Ronson - Acoustic Guitar, Piano and FX
Trevor Bolder Bass
Bonus Clip Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam”
Bonus Clip David Bowie - “Suffragette City” 1972