John, I'm Only Dancing

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"John, I'm Only Dancing"
Bowie JohnDancing1.jpg
Single by David Bowie
B-side"Hang On to Yourself"
Released1 September 1972 (original version)
April 1973 (sax version)
  • 26 June 1972 (original)
  • 20 January 1973 (sax version)
GenreGlam rock[1]
  • 2:49 (original)
  • 2:43 (sax version)
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
David Bowie singles chronology
"John, I'm Only Dancing"
"The Jean Genie"
Music video
"John, I'm Only Dancing" on Vimeo

"John, I'm Only Dancing" is a single by English rock musician David Bowie, released in two versions – entirely different recordings, but carrying the same catalogue number – in September 1972 and April 1973. Bowie later re-worked the song into the disco-influenced "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)," recorded in 1974 but unreleased until 1979.

Recording and release[edit]

The song is widely believed to be concerned with a gay relationship, the narrator informing his boyfriend not to worry about the girl he's with because he's "only dancing" with her.[2][3] Bowie had been 'out' as bisexual since an interview with Melody Maker in January 1972, and the subject matter did not affect the single's radio airplay in the UK, where it and the earlier "Starman" became his first back-to-back hits. However, the original video directed by Mick Rock, featuring androgynous dancers from Lindsay Kemp's mime troupe, was banned by Top of the Pops.[2]

The single was not released in America, being judged too risqué by RCA,[3][4] and did not officially appear stateside until it was finally issued on the compilation Changesonebowie in 1976. While the hook ("John, I'm only dancing / She turns me on / But I'm only dancing") has long been considered a gay tease, author Nicholas Pegg asserts that the song's narrator "could just as easily be a straight man reassuring the girl's lover".[4] Alternatively, it has been suggested that Bowie wrote the song in response to a derogatory comment made by John Lennon about Bowie's cross-dressing.[5]

Musically in a light R&B style, the track was recorded on 26 June 1972,[6][7] released as a single, and then re-recorded on 20 January 1973[8] during the Aladdin Sane sessions, in a slightly different arrangement featuring Ken Fordham on saxophone. Often called the "sax version", the second recording was issued as a single in April 1973 with exactly the same catalogue number as the first release, causing difficulties for collectors.[4] Generally held to be superior to the original cut,[3][9] the sax reworking also appeared on early pressings of Changesonebowie before it was replaced with the original single version.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie.[10][11]

  1. "John, I’m Only Dancing" – 2:43
  2. "Hang On to Yourself" – 2:38


Live versions[edit]

Other releases[edit]

  • The Portugal release of the single "Starman" from September 1972 had "John, I'm Only Dancing" as the B-side.
  • In November 1972 it was released as the B-side of the single "The Jean Genie" in Japan.
  • It appeared on the B-side of the "Cracked Actor" single in Eastern Europe in June 1973.
  • In 1979, a remix of the 1972 version of the song was released on various UK and US singles, either as an A-side or as the B-side to "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)". This version was included as a bonus track on the Rykodisc CD release of Ziggy Stardust in 1990.
  • The song has appeared in the following compilations:
  • The sax version was released on the bonus disc of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Aladdin Sane in 2003.
  • Both the 1972 original and the sax version were included on Re:Call 1, part of the Five Years (1969–1973) boxed set, in 2015.
  • The song was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.

John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)[edit]

"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
Bowie JohnDancingAgain.jpg
Single by David Bowie
B-side"John, I'm Only Dancing"
Released7 December 1979
RecordedAugust and November 1974
StudioSigma Sound, Philadelphia
Length6:57 (12" version)
3:26 (single version)
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie singles chronology
"Look Back in Anger"
"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
"Alabama Song"

"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" is a re-recording of "John, I'm Only Dancing", made in 1974 during the sessions in Philadelphia for the album Young Americans. It was pencilled in as the opening track of the new album, before further sessions in New York generated more tracks which pushed it out of the running order.

Finally released as a standalone single in December 1979, the re-recording featured a much more funk-influenced take on the track, and has some similarities with the song "Stay" recorded for the Station to Station album in 1976. Originally running at 6:57, the track was cut for a 7" single release, but the full version was issued on 12" vinyl – the first Bowie single to have a regular 12" release in the UK. For the B-side, the original version of "John, I'm Only Dancing" was remixed. After the relative disappointment of the singles from Lodger on the charts, the single gave Bowie some greater degree of mainstream exposure during a period when his work was increasingly being perceived as esoteric and experimental. The long 12" version was included as a bonus track on the 1991 Rykodisk/EMI remaster CD of Young Americans, on the 2007 collectors edition of the album, and on The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979. The 7" single version was not released on CD until 2016's Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976).

The reworking of "John, I'm Only Dancing" drops the original verses, only leaving the chorus' lyrics intact, perhaps because of the supposed homosexual nature of the original piece. The new lyrics were simply an embrace of the dance floor and the spirit of disco. The chorus is delivered more slowly and unswung with dance beats instead of the rather retro blues beats of the original, giving time for Bowie to demonstrate vocal virtuosity. The changes were considered somewhat strange given the original's context, especially the transformation into the "overlong" dance track, given the 12" version's extended mix, in which half of the song is a repetitive riff consisting of the lyrics "dancing, dancing, dancing, woo woo woo-oo".

Track listings[edit]

All tracks written by David Bowie.

7" (BOW 4-UK)

  1. "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" – 3:26
  2. "John, I'm Only Dancing (1972)" – 2:43

7" (11887-US)

  1. "John, I'm Only Dancing (1972)" – 2:43
  2. "Joe The Lion" – 3:05

12" (11886-US)

  1. "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" – 6:59
  2. "Golden Years" – 4:03

12" (BOW 12 4-UK)

  1. "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" – 6:59
  2. "John, I'm Only Dancing (1972)" – 2:43

There were two entirely distinct singles in the US. One had "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)", with "Golden Years" as the B-side. The other omitted "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)", instead featuring the new remix of the 1972 version of the song, with "Joe the Lion" as the B-side.


Other releases[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

In 1972, "John, I'm Only Dancing" debuted at #49 on the Ultratop 50 in Wallonia.[13]


  1. ^ Wolk, Douglas (22 January 2015). "David Bowie: Young Americans". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b Buckley 1999, pp. 169–170.
  3. ^ a b c d Carr & Murray 1981, pp. 49–50.
  4. ^ a b c Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie, pp. 112–113
  5. ^ Philip Glaviano (1983). Inside Bowie, p. 69
  6. ^ Cann 2010, p. 257.
  7. ^ Chris O'Leary (2015). Rebel Rebel, pp. 246, 526
  8. ^ Cann 2010, p. 283.
  9. ^ a b "John, I’m Only Dancing" Archived 8 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine at The Ziggy Stardust Companion
  10. ^ "John, I'm Only Dancing" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1972. RCA 2263.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  11. ^ "John, I'm Only Dancing" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Victor. 1973. RCA 2263.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. ^ "John i'm only dancing/Big green car | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company".
  13. ^ "David Bowie - John, I'm Only Dancing". Ultratop 50 (in French). Retrieved 12 September 2020.