In the studio

‘Suffragette City’ was one of the last songs recorded for The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

On 4 February 1972, at London’s Trident Studios, Bowie recorded ‘Starman’, ‘Suffragette City’, and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’, after which the album was complete.

‘Suffragette City’ featured an ARP synthesizer, part of Trident’s arsenal of instruments, and performed by Mick Ronson.

‘And David himself supplying those huge blaring baritone saxes’ according to American DJ Redbeard during a radio interview with David. Not exactly. We’d basically finished the song but it felt as if it needed something else, so I sent the assistant engineer upstairs to bring down the rather large ARP 2500 [synthesizer]. I messed around and came up with a sound, Ronno played the parts and there you have the blaring ARP synth.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969-1973) book

Although the album version segues from ‘Ziggy Stardust’, the two pieces of music were recorded separately.

BBC recording

David Bowie recorded ‘Suffragette City’ on one occasion for BBC radio.

The session was for Sounds Of The 70s presented by John Peel. It was recorded on 16 May 1972 and first broadcast on 23 May.

Bowie and the Spiders From Mars were joined by pianist Nicky Graham. They performed five songs: ‘White Light/White Heat’, ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Hang On To Yourself’, ‘Suffragette City’, and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.

The complete session was released in 2000 on Bowie At The Beeb.

Live performances

‘Suffragette City’ was one of David Bowie’s most enduring live songs. It was performed throughout the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1972-3, with recordings available on Live Santa Monica ’72 and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.

On 17 June 1972, Bowie performed at Oxford’s Town Hall. He warned photographer Mick Rock beforehand to be ready for something special, and during ‘Suffragette City’ Rock captured the moment when Bowie fell to his knees and simulated fellatio on Mick Ronson’s guitar.

I had a Ziggy haircut – dyed red as well. I did get his autograph in 1972, at the Newcastle City Hall in June, which I have to say was over half empty! During ‘Suffragette City’, when he sang ‘Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,’ they showered the audience with pictures of David as Ziggy Stardust, which was just about to come out. And I got him to sign one of those on his way out, which I still have funnily enough.
Neil Tennant, Pet Shop Boys
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

‘Suffragette City’ was also performed during the Diamond Dogs Tour, and can be heard on David Live, Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74), and I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74).

A performance from the Isolar (Station To Station) Tour can be heard on Live Nassau Coliseum ’76, while recordings from the Isolar II Tour are available on Stage and Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78).

At the end of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ when he sings But Ziggy played … in that pause, the crowd joyously sang GUITAAAR! and Carlos, grinning widely, played the last chord, letting them steal the ending from David. The cheer that followed broke into screams as Adrian ground out the first notes of ‘Suffragette City’. The crowd clapped and stomped and the place shook. I looked up and was horrified to see the whole structure of the top balcony was bouncing at least twelve inches to the beat. The spotlights up there were waving their long beams, amplifying the movement of the floor. I shuddered, imagining the carnage if anything gave way. WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!
Sean Mayes
Life on Tour with Bowie

Bowie also performed ‘Suffragette City’ during the Sound + Vision Tour in 1990, and A Reality Tour in 2003-4.

Previous song: ‘Ziggy Stardust’
Next song: ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’