The Jean Genie
|"The Jean Genie"|
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album Aladdin Sane|
|Released||24 November 1972|
|Recorded||RCA Studios, New York City
6 October 1972
|Producer(s)||Ken Scott, David Bowie|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"The Jean Genie" is a song by David Bowie, originally released as a single in November 1972. According to Bowie, it was "a smorgasbord of imagined Americana", with a protagonist inspired by Iggy Pop, and the title being a pun on author Jean Genet. One of Bowie’s most famous tracks, it was the lead single for the album Aladdin Sane (1973). Promoted with a film clip featuring Andy Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe, it peaked at No. 2 on the UK charts.
Music and lyrics
"The Jean Genie" was composed and recorded in autumn 1972 in New York City, where Bowie spent time with the Warhol set's Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie would later assert, "I wrote it for her amusement in her apartment. Sexy girl." The recording took place at New York's RCA Studios on 6 October 1972. The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to The Yardbirds, especially their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man", while the lyrics have been likened to the "stylised sleaze" of The Velvet Underground. The subject matter was inspired in part by Bowie's friend Iggy Pop or, in Bowie's own words, "an Iggy-type character... it wasn't actually Iggy." The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" would later give the band Simple Minds their name.
The title has long been taken as a pun on the name of author Jean Genet. Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes". In his 2005 book Moonage Daydream, he stated this less equivocally: "Starting out as a lightweight riff thing I had written one evening in NY for Cyrinda’s enjoyment, I developed the lyric to the otherwise wordless pumper and it ultimately turned into a bit of a smorgasbord of imagined Americana ... based on an Iggy-type persona ... The title, of course, was a clumsy pun upon Jean Genet".
Mick Rock directed a film clip to promote the song, mixing concert and studio footage of Bowie performing with the Spiders From Mars, along with location shots of the singer posing at the Mars Hotel in San Francisco, with Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie wanted the video to depict "Ziggy as a kind of Hollywood street-rat" with a "consort of the Marilyn brand". This led to Foxe's casting, and she flew from New York to San Francisco especially for the shoot.
Bowie also recorded "The Jean Genie" for Top of the Pops, the performance being broadcast on 4 January 1973. Unusually for the era, the four-piece band performed live, and included an extended guitar solo by Mick Ronson. Tapes of this edition of Top of the Pops were subsequently wiped, but a copy was made by BBC cameraman John Henshall, who had utilised the then new fisheye lens camera techniques for the performance. John Henshall was contacted by music television aficianado Ray Langstone who persuaded John to share his historic material. The film has since been preserved for posterity and was shown at the British Film Institute in December 2011. The BBC re-broadcast the clip in its Top of the Pops 2 Christmas Special on 21 December 2011, for the first time since the original broadcast in January 1973.
Release and aftermath
Some controversy arose in the UK when fellow RCA act The Sweet's issued "Block Buster!", utilising a riff very similar to "The Jean Genie". Sweet's single, written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, and recorded and released slightly later than Bowie's song, made No. 1 in the UK charts while "The Jean Genie" was still in the Top 10. All parties maintained that the similarity was, in Nicky Chinn's words, "absolute coincidence". Chinn described a meeting with Bowie at which the latter "looked at me completely deadpan and said 'Cunt!' And then he got up and gave me a hug and said, 'Congratulations...'"
"The Jean Genie" spent 13 weeks in the UK charts. It peaked at No. 2, making it Bowie's biggest hit to date. In the US, it reached No. 71 (this time beating "Block Buster!", which made #73). While biographer David Buckley has described it as "derivative, plodding, if undeniably catchy", it remains one of Bowie's signature tunes, and has often been played at his concerts since its release.
- "The Jean Genie" (Bowie) – 4:02
- "Ziggy Stardust" (Bowie) – 3:13
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||42|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||26|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||75|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||37|
|Irish Singles Chart||3|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||7|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||5|
|UK (Official Charts Company)||2|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||71|
- A live version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 was released on Santa Monica '72 and Live Santa Monica '72, as well as on on the bonus disc of the Aladdin Sane - 30th Anniversary Edition in 2003. This version also appeared on the Japanese release of RarestOneBowie.
- The song was played at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3 July 1973 but was left off the Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture album. This particular version featured Jeff Beck on guitar.
- A live version from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the semi-legal album A Portrait in Flesh.
- A live performance recorded on 23 March 1976 was released on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, part of the 2010 reissues of Station to Station.
- The song was a late addition to the setlist during Bowie's Glass Spider Tour in 1987.
- Billy Corgan performed the song live with David Bowie on Bowie's 50th Birthday Bash concert in January 1997.
- "The Jean Genie" has appeared on many Bowie compilations:
- The original single mix of the song was also released on the bonus disc of Aladdin Sane - 30th Anniversary Edition in 2003.
- Picture disc versions were released in both the RCA Life Time picture disc set and the Fashion Picture Disc Set.
- The Diamonds – Million Copy Hit Songs Made Famous by Elton John & David Bowie
- Marillion often interpolated the song during live performances of their single "Market Square Heroes"
- Die Lady Di – Ashes to Ashes: A Tribute to David Bowie (1998)
- Fernando – Crash Course for the Ravers - A Tribute to the Songs of David Bowie (1996)
- Children of the Revolution – Hero: The Main Man Records Tribute to David Bowie (2007)
- Hothouse Flowers (& friends) – live recording
- The Rockridge Synthesiser Orchestra - Plays David Bowie Classic Trax
- Arno & Beverly Jo Scott – "La fille du père Noël meets Jean Genie"; this track appears as "Jean Baltazaarrr" on the compilation BowieMania: Mania, une collection obsessionelle de Beatrice Ardisson (2007)
- Van Halen – live recording
- Enuff Z'Nuff from their album 10 (2000) and Hero: The Main Man Records Tribute to David Bowie (2007)
- The Dandy Warhols – Come on Feel the Dandy Warhols
- Paco Volume – BowieMania: Mania, une collection obsessionelle de Beatrice Ardisson (2007)
- Edmund Butt – "Gene Genie" (Gene Hunt's theme from "Ashes to Ashes" Series) on Ashes to Ashes (Original Soundtrack) (2008)
- UFX – Total Sonic Mayhem (2002); the video for the 2013 remaster combines the song with its inspiration Jean Genet's only film Un Chant d'Amour (1950)
Appearances in popular culture
- The song is featured in the BBC television series Life on Mars (named after a David Bowie song) and is mentioned by DCI Gene "the Gene Genie" Hunt, who periodically refers to himself as 'The Gene Genie'. In the episode "A Conflict of Interests" it is playing as they enter the club; in a later scene, while they escort Stephen Warren from his club, Sweet's "Block Buster!", with its comparable riff, is played. Hunt refers to himself as the Gene Genie more frequently in the sequel series, Ashes to Ashes (also named for a Bowie song) and his individual theme music on the latter programme is an instrumental version of "The Jean Genie" (retitled "Gene Genie"), created by series composer Edmund Butt.
- The song appears in Anton Corbijn's 2007 Ian Curtis biopic Control. In the film a young Curtis sings the chorus against a mirror as Aladdin Sane blasts from a record player.
- Arjen Lucassen mentioned this song in the track "Best of Friends" on his album Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy.
- The song appears in the pilot episode of Alphas.
- The song appears in the critically and commercially successful film American Hustle as Bradley Cooper mimics Louis C.K.
- Gordinier, Jeff (31 May 2002), "Loving the Aliens", Entertainment Weekly (656): 26–34
- Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now - David Bowie: The London Years: 1947-1974: p.270
- Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.52
- Dave Thompson, Allmusic
- Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.110-111
- "FAQ; Simple Minds". Simple Minds. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- David Bowie & Mick Rock (2005). Moonage Daydream: pp.140-146
- "Top of the Pops 2". Top of the Pops. 2011-12-21. BBC. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
- "David Bowie Top of the Pops footage found by cameraman". BBC News. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
- "David Bowie's lost 1973 Top of the Pops performance of The Jean Genie.". Youtube. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
- Mark Blake (Ed.) (2007). "Future Legend", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: pp.74-75
- David Buckley (1999) Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.184
- "Ultratop.be – David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
- "The Jean Genie in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- "The Jean Genie in French Chart" (in French). Dominic DURAND / InfoDisc. 19 July 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013. You have to use the index at the top of the page and search "David Bowie"
- "Officialcharts.de – David Bowie – The Jean Genie". GfK Entertainment.
- "The Jean Genie in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 19 July 2013. Only one result when searching "Jean Genie"
- "Indice per Interprete: B". HitParadeItalia (it). Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- "Nederlandse Top 40 – David Bowie search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
- "Dutchcharts.nl – David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
- "1973 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 13th January 1973". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- "Aladdin Sane awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5.
- Tremlett, George, David Bowie: Living on the Brink, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1996, ISBN 0-7867-0465-9.