Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 4 February 1972
Producers: Ken Scott, David Bowie
Released: 16 June 1972
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Bowie At The Beeb
Live Santa Monica ’72
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74)
Live Nassau Coliseum ’76
Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78)
Mick Ronson: electric guitar, piano, ARP synthesizer
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
‘Suffragette City’ was originally released in April 1972 as the b-side of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ single, and later on his fifth album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
‘Suffragette City’ was just balls to the wall and go for it. It’s one of those funny grooves: you listen to it and you think ‘Is that all there is to it?’, but when I tried different beats the song was diminished. Somehow the beat that is on there keeps the listener involved and doesn’t let up. You are in there until the end.
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie
Bowie adopted a number of slang phrases on ‘Suffragette City’. The repeated “Hey man” Americanism in the verses was joined by Bowie’s own neologisms (“She’s a total blam-blam”), some innuendo (“She had to squeeze it but she… and then she…”), and even some Nadsat, Anthony Burgess’s invented idiom from A Clockwork Orange (“say droogie don’t crash here”).
The celebrated phrase “Wham bam, thank you ma’am”, meanwhile, was taken by Bowie from the title of a piece on Charles Mingus’s 1962 album Oh Yeah.
In the early 60s, Medhurst’s was the biggest department store in Bromley, my British hometown. In terms of style, they were to be pulverized by their competitors down the road, who stocked up early on the new, “G-Plan” Scandinavian-style furniture. But Medhurst’s did have, unaccountably, a fantastic record department, run by a wonderful “married” couple, Jimmy and Charles. There wasn’t an American release they didn’t have or couldn’t get. Quite as hip as any London supplier. I would have had a very dry musical run were it not for this place. Jane Greene, their counter assistant, took a liking to me, and whenever I would pop in, which was most afternoons after school, she would let me play records in the “sound booth” to my heart’s content till the store closed at 5:30 P.M. Jane would often join me, and we would smooch big-time to the sounds of Ray Charles or Eddie Cochran. This was very exciting, as I was around 13 or 14 and she would be a womanly 17 at that time. My first older woman. Charles let me buy at a huge discount, enabling me to build up a fab collection over the two or three years that I frequented this store. Happy days. Jimmy, the younger partner, recommended this Mingus album one day around 1961. I lost my original Medhurst copy, but have continued to re-buy the print through the years, as it was re-released time and time again. It has on it the rather giveaway track ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am’. It was also my introduction to Roland Kirk.
Vanity Fair, November 2003
A song titled ‘Wham Bam Thank You Mam’ had also been the b-side of the Small Faces’ 1969 single ‘Afterglow Of Your Love’. The phrase was suggested by Bowie’s old schoolfriend George Underwood.
I remember being at Haddon Hall when he first played ‘Suffragette City’. And at the end of the performance – he just played it on a twelve-string – I shouted out, ‘Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!’ which was a song from a Charlie Mingus album, Oh Yeah. And it obviously ended up on the record. After Ziggy started working, he took real pleasure in moulding his success.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie originally offered ‘Suffragette City’ to the band Mott the Hoople, who turned it down in January 1972. In March that year, bass guitarist Pete ‘Overend’ Watts called Bowie to tell him the band would be no more after their current UK tour.
Watts had Bowie’s number from the demo tape of ‘Suffragette City’. The conversation resulted in Bowie writing ‘All The Young Dudes’ for the band.
Overend, who had always been a big fan of Bowie, phoned him up. He’d got his phone number from a tape David sent us of ‘Suffragette City’, which he thought we might like to do for a single. He said, ‘The band’s split, y’know, what’s happening with you?’ – hoping for some job as a bass player, maybe. David was quite shocked that the band had broken and said, ‘Listen, don’t do anything, I’ll work something out, you mustn’t break up.’
Changes: The David Bowie Story, BBC Radio 1, May 1976