Classic Rock Wiki

"Rebel Rebel" is a song by David Bowie, released in 1974 as a single and on the album Diamond Dogs. Cited as his most-covered track,[1] it was effectively Bowie's farewell to the glam movement that he had helped pioneer.[2][3]



  • 1 Music and lyrics
  • 2 Release and aftermath
  • 3 Track listing
  • 4 Production credits
  • 5 Charts
  • 6 Live versions
  • 7 Other releases
  • 8 Cover versions
  • 9 Notes
  • 10 References
  • 11 External links

Music and lyrics[edit][]

Originally written for a mooted Ziggy Stardust musical in late 1973,[4] "Rebel Rebel" -- recorded in January 1974 and released a month later -- was Bowie's last single in the glam rock style that had been his trademark. It was also his first hit since 1969 not to feature lead guitarist Mick Ronson; Bowie himself played guitar on this and almost all other tracks from Diamond Dogs, producing what NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray called "a rocking dirty noise that owed as much to Keith Richards as it did to the departed Ronno".[5]

The song is notable for its gender-bending lyrics ("You got your mother in a whirl / She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl") as well as its distinctive riff, which rock journalistKris Needs has described as "a classic stick-in-the-head like the Stones' 'Satisfaction'".[6] Bowie himself later said, "It's a fabulous riff! Just fabulous! When I stumbled onto it, it was 'Oh, thank you!'"[7]

Transsexual rock artist and former Bowie associate Jayne County claims that "Rebel Rebel" was based in part on County's own song "Queenage Baby",[8] which was recorded in January 1974 by Bowie's Mainman Records, but not released at the time. The song later surfaced on the independent 2006 release Wayne County at the Trucks, and some critics, upon hearing the track, echoed County's claims.[9][10]

Bowie performing "Rebel Rebel" onAVRO'sTopPopin 1974.

Release and aftermath[edit][]

The single quickly became a glam anthem, the female equivalent of Bowie's earlier hit for Mott the Hoople, "All the Young Dudes".[5] It reached No. 5 in the UK and No. 64 in the USA. The latter release initially featured a different recording altogether, a radically revised mix that Bowie cut in New York in April 1974. The US single, credited to simply 'Bowie', is shorter (2:58) and more uptempo, dense and camp than the UK single, featuring percussion by Geoff MacCormack, phased vocals, and a new arrangement.[7] Within a couple of months it was withdrawn and replaced by the UK single version, but the same arrangement was used on Bowie's North American tour in 1974, appearing on the concert album David Live.

After retiring the song on his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour, Bowie brought "Rebel Rebel" back for the 1999 'hours...' promotional tour. In 2003, a new version was recorded, featuring an arrangement by Mark Plati and without the reference to quaaludes present in the original. This was issued on a bonus disc that came with some versions of the Reality album the same year, and on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Diamond Dogs in 2004. Also in 2004, the track was blended in a mash-up with the Reality song "Never Get Old"; the result was issued as the single "Rebel Never Gets Old".

Track listing[edit][]

  1. "Rebel Rebel" (Bowie) – 4:20
  2. "Queen Bitch" (Bowie) – 3:13

The US and Canadian version of this single had "Lady Grinning Soul" as the B-side.

Production credits[edit][]

  • Producers:
    • David Bowie
  • Musicians:
    • David Bowie: vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar
    • Herbie Flowers: bass
    • Mike Garson: piano
    • Aynsley Dunbar: drums
    • Mick Ronson: guitar on "Queen Bitch"
    • Trevor Bolder: bass on "Queen Bitch"
    • Mick Woodmansey: drums on "Queen Bitch"


Chart (1974) Peak


Australian ARIA Singles Chart 28
Canadian Singles Chart 30
Finnish Singles Chart 7
German Singles Chart 33
Irish Singles Chart 2
Norwegian Singles Chart 9
UK Singles Chart 5
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 64

Live versions[edit][]

  • A live version from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. This version was also issued on the Dutch release Rock Concert. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the semi-legal album A Portrait in Flesh.
  • A live performance recorded on 23 March 1976 was released on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, part of the 2010 reissues of Station to Station.
  • A live performance filmed on 12 September 1983 was included on the Serious Moonlight (1983 film) live VHS/laserdisc (1984) and DVD (2006).
  • Bowie performed the song during his set at Live Aid in 1985.
  • The song was performed during 1987's Glass Spider Tour and released on the subsequent Glass Spider live VHS (1988) and DVD/CD (2007).
  • Bowie performed the song on Later... with Jools Holland, a UK television programme in 2002.
  • The new version of "Rebel Rebel" from 2003 was performed live on A Reality Tour. It was used as the opening piece for the bulk of the tour, and is featured on the A Reality Tour DVD, released in 2004, as well as the A Reality Tour album, released in 2010.

Other releases[edit][]

  • It appeared on several compilations:
    • ChangesOneBowie (1976)
    • Changesbowie (1990)
    • Bowie: The Singles 1969-1993 (1993)
    • The Singles Collection (1993)
    • The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997)
    • Best of Bowie (2002)
    • The Platinum Collection (2005/2006)
    • Nothing Has Changed (2014)
  • It was released as picture discs in the RCA Life Time picture disc set and the Fashion Picture Disc Set.
  • A cover version of the guitar intro was featured in a series of Mazda car advertisements in the US and Canada in 1998/1999.[citation needed]
  • The soundtrack of the 1999 film Detroit Rock City featured "Rebel Rebel".
  • The rare US single version was released in the Sound and Vision box set and on the bonus disc of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Diamond Dogs in 2004.
  • The 2003 rerecording was released on the bonus disc of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Diamond Dogs, the Limited Edition bonus disc of Reality, and the Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack.
  • The soundtrack of the 2009 film Bandslam (in which Bowie makes a cameo) features "Rebel Rebel".
  • It is also featured in the 2010 film The Runaways, and is included on its soundtrack album.
  • It featured in the trailer to the 2011 remake of Arthur.

Cover versions[edit][]

  • Bryan Adams – Live recording on The Secret Show (1993)
  • Bay City Rollers – It's a Game (1977)
  • Shaun Cassidy – Wasp (1980)
  • Clare Quilty - Face the Strange (2005)
  • Dead or Alive - Nukleopatra (1995)
  • Def Leppard in 2002
  • Rick Derringer – Live in Cleveland Promo (1976)
  • The Diamonds – Million Copy Hit Songs Made Famous by Elton John & David Bowie
  • Double You – The Blue Album (1994)
  • Duran Duran – Live recording
  • International Chrysis – Single (1994)
  • Enrique Seknadje - in "Diamond Dogs Revisited" (2014) On Sound Cloud
  • Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Flashback (1993)
  • Rickie Lee Jones – Traffic From Paradise (1993)
  • Seu Jorge – Portuguese version for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Magnus Uggla - Godkänd pirat (live 1980)
  • Manic Street Preachers - used as the intro to Motown Junk on the Forever Delayed tour (2002)
  • The Mike Flowers Pops
  • Iggy Pop and Lenny Kravitz performed the song live at the VH-1 Fashion Awards 1998. The video for "The Jean Genie" was used as a backdrop for the performance.
  • Sigue Sigue Sputnik – The First Generation (1990) and David Bowie Songbook and Starman: Rare and Exclusive Versions of 18 Classic David Bowie Songs, CD premium from the March 2008 issue ofUncut magazine.
  • Slant 6 – Single
  • The Dykeenies
  • The Smashing Pumpkins – Live in Spectrum, Oslo, Norway, 4/12/96
  • Tegan and Sara (featuring Grace Nocturnal) - Spiders from Venus: Indie Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie (2003)
  • Kyosuke Himuro – Live in Tokyo Dome (1989)
  • Kenichi Asai (2006)
  • Terminal Bliss - .2 Contamination: A Tribute to David Bowie (2006)
  • Unknown Hinson - Live in Atlanta, Georgia 10/24/2009