"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" is a song by David Bowie, originally released as the closing track on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in June 1972. It detailed Ziggy’s final collapse as an old, washed-up rock star and, as such, was also the closing number of the Ziggy Stardust live show. In April 1974 RCA issued it as a single.
Bowie saw the song in terms of the French chanson tradition, while biographer David Buckley has described both "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" and the album's opening track "Five Years" as "more like avant-garde show songs than actual rock songs". Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine similarly found it to have "a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll".
Although Bowie has suggested Baudelaire as his source, the lyrics "Time takes a cigarette..." are somewhat similar to the poem "Chants Andalous" by Manuel Machado: "Life is a cigarette / Cinder, ash and fire / Some smoke it in a hurry / Others savour it". The exhortation "Oh no, love, you're not alone" references the Jacques Brel song "You're Not Alone" ("Jef") that appeared in the musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Bowie covered Brel's "My Death" during some Ziggy Stardust live shows, and performed "Amsterdam" live on the BBC.
"Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" was one of the last songs recorded for Ziggy Stardust, along with "Suffragette City", which would immediately precede it in the album track list, and "Starman", soon to be issued as a single. As the final song on the album and climax to the Ziggy Stardust live shows throughout 1972-73, it soon became a slogan, appearing on many fans' jackets.
In April 1974 RCA, impatient for new material and having already rush-released "Rebel Rebel" from the Diamond Dogs sessions, arbitrarily picked the song for single release. Two years old, and already in the possession of most Bowie fans through Ziggy Stardust, its release has been labelled simply a "dosh-catching exercise". It stalled at #22 in the UK charts – Bowie's first RCA single to miss the British Top 20 since "Changes" in January 1972.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (Bowie) – 2:57
- "Quicksand" (Bowie) – 5:03
- Bowie played the song on the BBC show Sounds of the 70s with Bob Harris on 23 May 1972. This was broadcast on 19 June 1972 and in 2000 released on the album Bowie at the Beeb.
- A live version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 was released on Santa Monica '72.
- The version played at the final Ziggy Stardust concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3 July 1973 was released on Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture. Before beginning the song, Bowie announced: "Everybody... this has been one of the greatest tours of our lives. I would like to thank the band. I would like to thank our road crew. I would like to thank our lighting people. Of all of the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest because not only is it--not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do. Thank you." This version also appeared in the Sound and Vision boxed set.
- A recording from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the semi-legal A Portrait in Flesh.
- The last time to date Bowie played the song live was during Sound+Vision Tour in 1990.
- It was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.
- It also appeared on the following compilations:
- Black Box Recorder - The Worst of Black Box Recorder (2001); also included on Starman: Rare and Exclusive Versions of 18 Classic David Bowie Songs, CD premium from the March 2003 issue of Uncut magazine
- El Vez - G.I. Ay Ay! Blues and A Lad from Spain? EP (1996)
- John Frusciante - Live in Amsterdam 2001
- Tony Hadley - David Bowie Songbook (1993)
- Info Riot - Ashes to Ashes: a Tribute to David Bowie (1998)
- Rilo Kiley
- Neal Morse - Cover to Cover
- Hazel O'Connor - Diamond Gods: Interpretations of Bowie (2001)
- OK Go and Bonerama - Released an iTunes EP with all proceeds going to New Orleans charities
- Revue Noir - .2 Contamination: A Tribute to David Bowie (2006)
- Seu Jorge - Portuguese version for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
- Techno Cowboy - The Ziggy Stardust Omnichord Album (2009)
- Camille O'Sullivan - Live at the Olympia (2008)
- BB Brunes
- Gwyneth Herbert - All the Ghosts (2009)
- In July 1998, artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard presented a recreation of Ziggy Stardust's farewell concert, titled A Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
- In the skateboard video, "Sorry" by Flip Skateboards the song is used during Arto Saari's part.
- It plays over the end credits in the film What We Do Is Secret about the life and death of Darby Crash, the lead singer for The Germs who committed suicide.