[A38c] ‘Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H.)’

Released on: Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H.) / (Everything I Do) I Do It For You (Single #9) Columbia Records, 7 September 1992
Peak UK Chart Position: #7
Band Ranking:

In November 1992, weekly music magazine NME (or New Musical Express) reached the grand old age of 40. To celebrate, a compilation called Ruby Trax was released; this was a triple covers album on which then-current artists recorded special covers of songs of their own choosing. The one condition was that the covers had to be of UK #1 singles. All proceeds would go to the Spastics Society (a charity now known as Scope).

The Manics agreed to take part, perhaps partly because they reasoned it was the least they owed the NME in exchange for its early support. Selecting a #1 single to cover proved a challenge, however – most of the band’s heroes had never achieved that feat so no obvious songs sprung to mind. Eventually, they settled on ‘Suicide Is Painless’, the theme to the classic 1971 black comedy film MASH.

For their part, NME selected this recording and a cover of Bryan Adams massive hit ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ by The Fatima Mansions to form a double-A side single to promote Ruby Trax. Released in September 1992, the single was a departure for the Manics from Generation Terrorists promotional material, although outside the UK alternate versions were released with GT-related B-sides.

With their cover, the Manics largely dispensed with the quiet, folky atmosphere of the original version which had hit the top of the charts in 1980, years after its original release (thanks to belated heavy airplay by DJ Noel Edmunds on BBC Radio 1). Instead, they closed out the song with a rock monster of a conclusion, comprised of a particularly crunching riff from Bradfield and what Wire remembered as “really great” drums from Moore. This beefed-up version, one of the most definitively heavy efforts of the Manics career up to 1992, received enough airplay to push it to #7 in the UK charts. This meant that the Manics had achieved their very first top 10 single – the fact that they had done this with someone else’s song would be a sore point for a long time.

Interestingly, the song’s impressive and meditative lyrics were written by Mike Altman, the son of MASH director Robert Altman. Altman Sr. later stated that his son earned significantly more from the song’s royalties than the $70,000 he had been paid to actually direct the film – Mike Altman was just 14 years old at the time. The original single was credited to “The Mash”.

The video for this song is often thought of as among the band’s best and was directed by Matthew Amos. During the fast section towards the end, the video breaks up into dozens of shots that fly past at almost subliminal speed; not for the faint-hearted, but appropriate.

Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“the game of life is hard to play / I’m gonna lose it anyway”

“To be or not to be” – the phrase often used to identify the whole famous speech or soliloquy spoken by the central character in Act 3 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.


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