Released: 24 May 1974
Mike Garson: piano, organ
Herbie Flowers: bass guitar
Tony Newman: drums
Geoff MacCormack: vocals
The song was co-written by Bowie and his former schoolfriend Geoffrey MacCormack, then sometimes known as Warren Peace or Geoffrey Alexander.
The pair composed it at Bowie’s home at 89 Oakley Street in Chelsea, London. MacCormack played a sequence of chords on the piano, which formed the basis of the verses. Bowie added the chorus and the lyrics.
We wrote it in Oakley Street. I’d just popped round to hang. David was fiddling around on a tiny piano. He got up, and I started fiddling around with a chord sequence and stuff that I had just written. David said, ‘Hang on a minute, play that again!’ So, it was very much accidental. My contribution was round the verse parts. I wouldn’t have dreamed of sitting down and saying, ‘Oh, let’s write a song together.’
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
Diamond Dogs, Track 7 – Rock ’n’ Roll with Me
This one starts off with me on piano playing a pretty simple and conventional 70s pop / gospel part. None of my wild outside piano here. Just a beautiful melody with a great feel. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) July 12, 2020
Bowie had never shared co-writing credits prior to 1974. The first instance was on Mick Ronson’s debut solo album Slaughter On 10th Avenue, released in February that year, but became more common after Diamond Dogs.
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ was, with ‘Rebel Rebel’, originally intended for Bowie’s mooted Ziggy Stardust musical, which never came to fruition. Instead it was the lead song on side two of Diamond Dogs, despite it having little to do with the Hunger City concept.
During live shows Bowie occasionally told the audience that the song was about them. In a September 1974 Melody Maker interview he was asked about his role as a figurehead, which Bowie attempted to downplay.
That’s just it. That’s what I said in ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’. I mean, the verse of that talks about that… you’re doing it to me. Stop it.
That’s why I’m happy my music is going in the new direction. It’s responsible music. I mean, one could play an enormous game with people, but I am not prepared to do it. I could see how easy it was to get a whole rally thing going.
There were times, frankly, when I could have told the audience to do anything, and that’s frightening. Well, I’ve got that responsibility so I’ve got to be very careful about what I do with it. It needs a bit of forethought.
Melody Maker, 14 September 1974
In the studio
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ was recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, on 15 January 1974.
David, Herbie, Tony and I must have tried a dozen versions of this song, searching for it in the studio. Finally we found it and you’re hearing that beautiful result right here. #TimsTwitterListeningPart
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) July 12, 2020
A rehearsal tape from the studio session shows several lyrical changes in the first verse, beginning with the first line in the first person: “I always was the one that knew”.
“Lizards lay crying in the heat” were originally “crying on the street”, and the couplet “I would take a foxy kind of stand/While tens of thousands found me in demand” was “I would take invaders into hand/While tens of millions failed to understand”.
The chorus and second verse were mostly in their final incarnations, although the latter began with “Rental hearts are counted down” instead of “gentle hearts”.
Although Bowie played the majority of the guitar work on Diamond Dogs, the album had guest appearances by Earl Slick and Alan Parker. Slick played on ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’, while Parker performed on ‘1984’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’.
A cover version of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ by Donovan was released in 1974, prompting RCA to release the David Live recording as a single in September 1974. The b-side was ‘Panic In Detroit’ from the same tour.
A “Promotional Single Edit” of the song was also made at the time, a remix which faded the song early. It was posted on YouTube in February 2017 ahead of the box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976), and was included on Re:Call 2 in the box set.
David Bowie performed ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ throughout the Diamond Dogs/Soul Tour, which ran from June to December 1974.
In July Bowie played six consecutive nights at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. They were recorded, with highlights released later that year on David Live.
On the original release of the album, the song was known as ‘When You Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’. It reverted back to ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ for the 2005 remix.
Another performance of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ was recorded on 5 September 1974, and issued in 2017 on Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74).
The final leg of the tour was known as the Soul Tour. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ remained in the live set, and a recording from Detroit’s Michigan Palace on 20 October 1974 was included on the 2020 live album I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74).