"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, it was effectively Bowie's farewell to the glam movement that he had helped pioneer.
Originally written for a mooted Ziggy Stardust musical in late 1973, "Rebel Rebel" 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".
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 journalist Kris Needs has described as "a classic stick-in-the-head like the Stones' 'Satisfaction'". Bowie himself later said, "It's a fabulous riff! Just fabulous! When I stumbled onto it, it was 'Oh, thank you!'"
Transsexual rock artist and former Bowie associate Jayne County claims that "Rebel Rebel" was based in part on County's own song "Queenage Baby", 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.
The single quickly became a glam anthem, the female equivalent of Bowie's earlier hit for Mott the Hoople, "All the Young Dudes". It reached #5 in the UK and #64 in the USA. The latter release initially featured a different recording altogether. The single, credited to simply 'Bowie', is shorter (2:58) and more uptempo, dense and camp, featuring phased vocals and Bowie playing all of the instruments with the exception of congas (Geoff MacCormack). It was swiftly withdrawn and replaced by the UK single version, but the same arrangement was used on Bowie's North American tour in 1974, appearing on the concert album David Live.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 the 1990 Sound and 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".
- "Rebel Rebel" (Bowie) – 4:20
- "Queen Bitch" (Bowie) – 3:13
The US and Canadian version of this single had "Lady Grinning Soul" as the B-side.
|Australian ARIA Singles Chart||28|
|Canadian Singles Chart||30|
|German Singles Chart||33|
|Irish Singles Chart||2|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||9|
|UK Singles Chart||5|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||64|
- 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.
- 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 the A Reality Tour DVD. This was used as the opening piece for the bulk of A Reality Tour.