Rebel Rebel (3:09)

Cover of The Best of David Bowie 1969-74

From The Best of David Bowie 1969-74 and 64 other releases

“Rebel Rebel” is a song by David Bowie, released in 1974 as a single and on the album Diamond Dogs. A different version was recorded for US single release, featuring a funkier backing and looped backing vocals. Cited as his most-covered track, it was effectively Bowie’s farewell to the glam movement that had made him a star.

Music and lyrics

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 of 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.

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