Fueled by a guitar riff that Keith Richards is still wondering if he didn’t give to Bowie in a heroin haze and lyrics that aim for the heart of teenagers of every possible gender, “Rebel Rebel” is an undeniable, eternal classic.
It’s weird though: while it seems like Bowie was a huge star from the moment “Space Oddity” hit the radio, Diamond Dogs was actually the first of his albums that made the U.S. Top 10, and that despite the fact that the U.S. single version of “Rebel Rebel” — which was a weird, truncated mix that de-emphasised the guitar riff — didn’t do shit on the charts.
My guess is that he got a huge boost from the rise of free-form FM radio, where songs like “Diamond Dogs” and the album version of “Rebel Rebel” would find their audience. After all, the lyrics just drip with the freedom of teenage rebellion:
You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
It’s beautiful, powerful, lyrical stuff. Sure, the chorus hints at the dark side of their nightlife, but as long as that nightlife is fueled by Bowie’s obvious enthusiasm and his unstoppable guitar riff, it doesn’t matter their faces are a mess or they tore their dresses. It’s all part of the fun of being young, rebellious and in love.
Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!
So get your face together, grab another dress and let’s get the hell back out there tomorrow night. Let’s go find another guitar riff and ride it as far as we can!!!
Fan-made video for “Rebel Rebel”
Fan made video for “Rebel Rebel (original U.S. single)”