‘Rebel Rebel’ was performed by David Bowie throughout his Diamond Dogs, Soul, Isolar, Isolar II, Serious Moonlight, Glass Spider, and Sound + Vision tours. He then retired the song for several years, explaining that he felt uneasy with the message it conveyed.
Only infrequently have I written things for a particular generation, things like ‘Rebel Rebel’. Those kind of songs are odd for me to sing now. I haven’t done ‘Rebel Rebel’ since the Glass Spider thing. It felt odd then and it feels odder now, placed in with a lot of other songs that I have no problem with, like ‘TVC 15’, ‘Station To Station’. Those things fit like a glove, I feel like I could do those forever. But the ones that are generationally message-oriented, like ‘Rebel Rebel’, I feel very uncomfortable with, and I find I’m throwing them away a bit. I hope it won’t show.
Q Magazine, April 1990
‘Rebel Rebel’ made a return to Bowie’s live set during the Hours… Tour, and was performed at his 1999-2000 shows. A version from this era can be heard on the album Glastonbury 2000.
A new arrangement by Mark Plati was performed during the Heathen Tour, beginning with muted guitar chords and vocals, before the full band arrangement during the chorus. It also
I hadn’t done it in quite a few years, so we restructured it and made it more minimal, and it works really well.
In Their Own Words, Bill DeMain
This new arrangement was first performed in public during a BBC radio session on 18 September 2002. It was retained throughout A Reality Tour, often as the opening song. During the BBC show, Bowie introduced ‘Rebel Rebel’ with the words: “This is one that I said I’d never play again. And, true to my track record, here it comes.”
Mark Plati’s arrangement of ‘Rebel Rebel’ was recorded in the studio during the early sessions for Reality, with Bowie and Tony Visconti producing.
The new version featured Plati and Gerry Leonard on guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass guitar, Sterling Campbell on drums, and Catherine Russell on backing vocals.
The 2002 version was included on a bonus disc with initial copies of Reality, and in 2004 as part of the Diamond Dogs 30th Anniversary Edition. It was also included on the soundtrack to the 2003 film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
In late 2003, Go Home Productions’ Mark Vidler was tasked with creating a mashup of ‘Rebel Rebel’ and the Reality song ‘Never Get Old’, which became known as ‘Rebel Never Gets Old’.
Vidler came back with three variations: a 3:25 radio mix; a 7:22 Seventh Heaven Mix; and an edit of the latter lasting 4:17. These were initially made available as a digital download in May 2004, and subsequently as a CD single, 12″ vinyl picture disc, and on a bonus disc included in a limited edition of Reality. The EPs contained the three mashups as well as the album track ‘Days’.