REBEL REBEL v2.0
I have felt sometime that there was something odd about the way 'Rebel Rebel' was handled in the US. I found it hard to believe that RCA would manufacture the singles there but not sell any into that market for three months. Then, there were the reports of the UK version supplanting the phased version on US record stores. This version of events, still offered up at Teenage Wildlife and on Wikipedia, doesn't jive with most printed ones. What follows an accounting of facts as I know them (they took place a little before my time) followed by some speculation. I am indebted to Chas Pearson, a UK based expert on Bowie singles whose new website you may have recently visited, for sharing his knowledge about these matters. While we differ on the question of whether Bowie had a different version of 'Rebel Rebel' already in mind in early January (I doubt it), we both agree that it seems likely that RCA US first decided against releasing the song as a single and then had a change of mind.
'Rebel Rebel' on vinyl in 1974
The single (with 'Queen Bitch' as the B-side) was released in the UK on February 14th (give or take a day). Because of labour and/or oil crisis issues, both US and French made singles were used to help meet UK demand. In the case of the US made LBP0-5009, two different kinds of labels were used - those with 'TMK(s) REGISTERED - MARCA(S) REGISTRADA(S) RCA CORP. - MADE IN USA - (P) 1974 RCA RECORDS' and without. In his DB World 7' Records Discography 1964-1981 (1994), Marshall Jarman implied that only those without the trademark assertion were meant for export, but I'm aware of two people buying the US-made single in the UK soon upon release that did get ones with the TMK(S). Chas believes today that both were commonly sold in the UK; neither is apparently too hard to find there.
Similar singles were released in western Europe, presumably more or less at the same time, with France, Holland and Italy using the same LBP0-5009 catalogue number.
A few weeks prior to the UK release date, a UK-made promo (also LBP0-5009) was issued. Interestingly, it gives February 1st, 1974 as the release date for the forthcoming single. US-made LBP0-5009 promos, made with an unusual white label - presumably because they were only meant for export to the UK - also exist.
The Diamond Dogs LP is released in the UK on April 24th (the US release was about 4 weeks later). As mentioned in the (unofficial) on-line Illustrated DB Discography, the LP version of 'Rebel Rebel' is slightly different from the UK single (the latter being 4:22 and more echoey than the 4:31 former).
In the US, the 2:58-long 'phased' version is released (cat# APB0-0287) in mid-May - a full three months after the release of the UK single! The same version is also released in Canada and, with a picture sleeve, in Mexico. The US-made promo with mono and stereo versions has cat # DJHO-0287.
A live version, recorded at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA on July 11th or 12th, 1974 is released on the David Live 2LP on October 29th.
In Australia, an EP with cat # 20610 is issued in November. The label states a timing of 4:20; according to the on-line Illustrated DB Discography, it's a 4:06 edit.
Recording of 'Rebel Rebel'
The Bowie literature is unclear as to the details. The liner notes of the 30th anniversary edition of Diamond Dogs have a chronology by Kevin Cann which states:
25th December 1973: David and Angela host Christmas dinner for Mick and Bianca Jagger at their Oakley Street home in Chelsea. Between Christmas and New Year, David is again drawn into the studio. In his last known visit to Trident, after an important association of around six years, he records an early version of 'Rebel Rebel'.
By February 14th (give or take a day) the single was in UK shops, by which time Bowie, with pirate eye-patch, had already made the Dutch TV appearance on Top Pop (Feb 7th, according to both the liner notes to the Best Of Bowie 2DVD (2002)) and The Complete David Bowie (2nd ed. 2002) by Nicholas Pegg; Feb 12th according to Cann).
In the 2nd edition, Pegg states that the song was recorded at Ludolf Studios in Holland, but as he doesn't have the guitarist information right, his credibility on this subject is suspect. Over the years, the question of who exactly played lead guitar on the song has yielded a harvest of incorrect answers. In print, I've seen: Bowie only (Pegg and An Illustrated Record (1981) by R. Carr & Charles Shaar Murray - though they mention the rumoured presence of Keith Richards and Marc Bolan), and Mick Ronson (Discography of a Generalist (1980) by David Fletcher). The matter seems to have been settled finally only in 2004 with the release of the 30th anniversary edition of Diamond Dogs where the liner notes have both David Bowie and Alan Parker reminiscing about the latter's guitar work on 'Rebel Rebel'.
Of the songs that would end up making up the Diamond Dogs album, it is known that Keith Harwood, engineer at Olympic Studios mixed 'Rebel Rebel' and two other songs which were among the first to be recorded while Tony Visconti mixed the later tracks in his newly configured home studio in London. According to Cann's timeline, Bowie first contacted Visconti on January 16th and it is safe to assume that Bowie spent at least a couple more days with Visconti before heading off to Holland. Though the other song on which Parker played, '1984' was mixed by Visconti, it may well be that Visconti's main contribution was the string arrangement, meaning that Parker's work may have been done before Visconti's began. It is known that this song had been written sometime earlier as it gave the '1980 Floor Show', NBC's Midnight Special filmed in October '73, its title.
Given the lead time necessary to produce the promo with the February 1st release date and the fact that Bowie was still in London on January 18th, I would suggest that it is very likely that the recording was completed before Bowie set out for Holland. Island Studios is also credited on the Diamond Dogs album, but I know of no reports concerning what was done there so, because Trident is not listed as one of the three studios used, it seems that the song was completed at either Island or Olympic in early January, 1974. I'm not an expert in such matters, but I believe that the (P)1973 on the singles may refer to the song's being formally published in that year, although I cannot completely rule out the possibility that most, if not all, of the recording was done at Trident in late 73 with the lack of a credit being explained by MainMan's not paying its bills there in timely fashion.
Geoff MacCormack recorded the castanets and congas present on the 'phased' version sometime after his and Bowie's NYC landing on April 11th. Bowie added some vocals. The 'phased' version is, thus, a remix with added percussion and vocals.
Airplay on US Radio and Availability in US shops
We have read earlier in this thread that the UK single version was played on Philadelphia radio prior to the album's release (May 23rd). Elsewhere on the Internet, Bowie fan Mike from the Cleveland area remembers both hearing the single on local radio and seeing the single being sold in stores. The song was apparently a big deal at Rodney [Bingenheimer]'s English Disco and I believe it would be safe to assume that some LA radio stations and record shops also had the UK single sometime before the 'phased' version came out. Indeed there was enough US airplay of the UK single for MainMan to refer to in ads for the 'phased' version in a 'the song is already a hit. Now you can get it in the shops' manner. Also, as R. Carr & Charles Shaar Murray discuss the popularity of the 'John, I'm Only Dancing' single (1972) on UK import in Memphis indicating the existence of a US market for UK import Bowie singles of interest, it seems not at all unreasonable to assume that 'Rebel Rebel' would have been available in US record shops dealing in UK 7" imports a few weeks after its UK issuance.
The 'phased' version was released around May 15th and, as we have seen, spent 8 weeks in Billboard's Hot 100. As this was better than all of his previous US releases (except for 'Space Oddity' which hit #15 in 1973), one should not expect it to be any rarer though, to be sure, because of the extra worldwide demand for the different version, one would expect it to fetch somewhat more.
Although I have yet to read any such recollections, it seems that in June 1974, we would have had some single oriented US (AM?) radio stations playing the 'phased' version while album oriented (FM?) stations would have stuck to the album version. In contrast to the UK, where RCA kept Bowie singles 'in-print' until they lost the catalogue rights, in the US, once the demand for a single had bottomed out, it was not repressed. Thus, a short while after the 'phased' version had made its chart exit, fresh copies would not have been available from RCA. In contrast, the UK single version would have been available from RCA in the UK into the mid-'80s. According to Chas, there is one UK store that still has lots of US-made ones today, 35 years after their initial release!
Was there as US release of LBP0-5009?
While there are accounts of US-made LBP0-5009 singles being sold by US shops both before and after the release of the 'phased' version, it is not at all clear how they managed to find their way onto the shops' shelves. I see three possibilities:
1) all US production was shipped to the UK and some of it was brought back by import dealers
2) Knowing that there would be a certain demand for them, without RCA managements approval, some insider diverted part of the US production from overseas shipment directly into the hands of import dealers and/or other distributors.
3) Knowing that there would be a certain demand for them, someone in RCA management diverted part of the US production from overseas shipment directly into the hands of import dealers and/or other distributors, possibly earning the US division some extra income by doing so.
Depending on how one defines the term 'release', the last of the three possibilities above may be seen as such. In those days, RCA always produced promos for US Bowie releases yet, other than the special white label 'export' promo, there was no 'regular' US-made promo for LBP0-5009. MainMan and RCA were all about hyping Bowie in '74, yet I know of no US advertising or PR for LBP0-5009. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't a normal release for RCA at that time. I am told that the amount of US-made singles exported to the UK ended up exceeding the demand by far, resulting in a glut for years to come. It may be that RCA at some point realised that these export singles could be put to better use back home and thus the reports of LBP0-5009 replacing APB0-0287 in some US shops.
Why wasn't the single released in the US at the same time as in the UK?
As we have seen, the first version of 'Rebel Rebel' was completed in time for the 1-2-74 dated UK promo to be released (ie sometime before about January 20th, 1974). The decision to release the track as a single in the UK must have been made shortly before the promos manufacture. It would seem to follow that, at this time, RCAs US division decided to delay a release or to not release it, perhaps hoping that an alternative song would emerge from the sessions that were still ongoing. If 'John, I'm Only Dancing' was a single that did not make it onto the subsequent album and if 'The Jean Genie' was a single that did make it onto the subsequent album then the UK 'Rebel Rebel' is like the latter. It is not a single like 'Starman' or 'Sorrow', both of which were selected for release from among a completed albums tracks.
In all probability, 'John, I'm Only Dancing' wasn't released in the US because it was deemed too racy for the market. Could it be that 'Rebel Rebel' was deemed similar in this regard (as were the Dogs bollocks on the LPs cover)? The other possibility is that, just as the Diamond Dogs albums release in the US was held off for four weeks after its UK appearance in order to benefit from the American tour, the singles release in the US was also timed with the tour in mind. The difference being that the delay would have been three months for the single as opposed to just four weeks for the LP. It should be pointed out that there was a Bowie single issued in the US at about the same time as 'Rebel Rebel' appeared in the UK Changes, Bowie's first RCA single (released either in December 71 or January 72 with orange labels) was reissued around January 74 with most copies ending up with grey labels (Chas has seen ads in publications dating from January, though it seems that a bigger push took place later that year, by which time RCA US had switched to grey labels).
On the face of it given that there was a May US release of 'Rebel Rebel', albeit of the phased version - one would think that it was just a matter of a lengthy delay. My problem with the delay scenario is that I am not aware of any evidence that this was RCAs plan. On the other hand, there is evidence pointing to the no US release scenario. First is the article entitled 'Diamond David', to be found in the June '74 issue of Rock magazine. The author, having attended a media preview of the Diamond Dogs album at MainMan's NYC office in April at which Bowie was present, writes:
'Rebel Rebel' closes out side one on its lightest note. It's probably Bowie's best single, but it won't be released as such in America. At least three of the other four songs have obvious 'single-potential' though, so I'd take bets that an edited 'Diamond Dogs' or '1984' hits the charts soon.' [complete article].
Why was the author so sure that the obvious choice for a single wouldn't get released, especially as it seems no alternative selection had yet been made? It would seem that he was so informed by someone in the know. Then there is the matter of RCA and MainMan's publicity. It is known that in the second quarter of '74, in an effort to "break" Bowie in the US, MainMan made a number of mailings of PR material to rock journalists. I would imagine that one could figure out their intentions with regards to 'Rebel Rebel' by looking through these. Unfortunately, I have not seen any of these, except for the one reproduced in An Illustrated Record. In this letter dated April 1st, MainMan mentions the forthcoming Diamond Dogs LP, provides the June 14 date for the tour debut, but is silent about any single.
It is my thesis that RCA US decided back in January not to release 'Rebel Rebel' in the US because of the gender-bending lyrics and to re-release 'Changes' instead. Once the UK single started getting US airplay, they reconsidered and Bowie took advantage of the opportunity to rework the song into the 'phased' version.
In June of '74, 'Diamond Dogs' was issued as a single with a remake of 'Holy, Holy' as the B-side. Again, US-made copies were used to help meet UK demand. Chas believes that there was no US release of this single as there was no US promo (Jarman had assumed the contrary) and all US stock copies have 'EX' on the label, suggesting that they were all meant for the UK. Curiously, the catalogue number used on both US and UK-made copies was the 'domestic' APBO-0293 and not an LBPO-xxxx.
3rd August 2009.