The Jean Genie
|"The Jean Genie"|
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album Aladdin Sane|
|Released||24 November 1972|
|Recorded||6 October 1972|
|Studio||RCA, New York City|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"The Jean Genie" is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, originally released in November 1972 as the lead single to his 1973 album Aladdin Sane. Co-produced by Ken Scott, Bowie recorded it with his backing band the Spiders from Mars − comprising Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey. According to Bowie, it was "a smorgasbord of imagined Americana", with a protagonist inspired by Iggy Pop, and the title being an allusion to author Jean Genet. One of Bowie's most famous tracks, it was promoted with a film clip featuring Andy Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe and peaked at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
Background and recording
According to author Nicholas Pegg, "The Jean Genie" originated as an impromptu jam, at this point titled "Bussin'", on the tour bus between the first two concerts in Cleveland and Memphis, when Mick Ronson began playing the Bo Diddley-inspired guitar riff on his new Les Paul. It subsequently became the first song Bowie composed for Aladdin Sane, in autumn 1972 during his 1972 US tour, completing the song in New York City, where he spent time with the Warhol set's Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie later asserted, "I wrote it for her amusement in her apartment. Sexy girl." Bowie later in the 1990s described the song as "a smorgasbord of imagined America" and "my first New York song." The recording took place at New York's RCA Studios on 6 October 1972. Mixing occurred the following week at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee; the original single mix is in narrow stereo, while the stereo soundscape is wider in the album mix.
Music and lyrics
The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to the Yardbirds, especially their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man", but was most probably inspired by French singer Jacques Dutronc's La Fille du Père Noël (1966), 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" later gave the band Simple Minds their name.
The title has long been taken as an allusion to the 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, in October 1972 in San Francisco, 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 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. Henshall was contacted by music television aficionado Ray Langstone who persuaded John to share his historic material. The film has since been preserved 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
"The Jean Genie" was released on 24 November 1972 by RCA Records (as RCA 2302) as the lead single to Bowie's 1973 album Aladdin Sane, with the 1972 song "Ziggy Stardust" as the B-side. On the album, it appears as the ninth and penultimate track. It spent 13 weeks on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 2, making it Bowie's biggest hit to date; it was kept off the top spot by Little Jimmy Osmond's "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool". In the US, it reached No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100. While biographer David Buckley has described it as "derivative, plodding, if undeniably catchy", it remains one of Bowie's signature tunes and was often played at his concerts.
Some controversy arose in the UK when fellow RCA act Sweet issued the song "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 and No. 73 on the US charts while "The Jean Genie" was still in the UK 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...'"
All songs written by David Bowie.
- "The Jean Genie" – 4:02
- "Ziggy Stardust" – 3:13
- David Bowie – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica
- Mick Ronson – lead guitar, backing vocals
- Trevor Bolder – bass
- Mick "Woody" Woodmansey – drums
- Aynsley Dunbar – percussion
|Australia (Kent Music Report)[verification needed]||42|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||26|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||7|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||75|
|France (SNEP)||22[verification needed]|
|West Germany (Official German Charts)||37|
|Irish Singles Chart||3|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||7|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||5|
|Spanish Singles Chart||8|
|UK Singles Chart (Official Charts Company)||2|
|US 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 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 first leg of the 1974 tour was released on David Live. A live recording from the second leg of the same tour (previously available on the unofficial album A Portrait in Flesh) was released in 2017 on Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74). A live version from the third leg of the tour, incorporating the chorus of the Beatles' "Love Me Do", was released in 2020 on I'm Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74).
- A live performance recorded on 23 March 1976 was included on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, which was released as part of the 2010 reissues of the Station to Station album, in the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976), and as a stand–alone album in 2017.
- A live version recorded on 6 May 1978 was included on the 2017 edition of Bowie's live album Stage, which was released in the box set A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982), and as a stand–alone album in 2018.
- A summer 1978 performance from the same Isolar II tour was released on Welcome to the Blackout in 2018.
- The song was a late addition to the setlist during Bowie's Glass Spider Tour in 1987 and was released as part of the concert video Glass Spider (1988/2007).
- Billy Corgan performed the song live with David Bowie on Bowie's 50th Birthday Bash concert in January 1997.
- A live version recorded by Bowie in mid-1997 during this Earthling Tour was released on Look at the Moon! (2021).
- "The Jean Genie" has appeared on many Bowie compilations:
- The Best of David Bowie (Japan 1974)
- ChangesOneBowie (1976)
- The Best of Bowie (1980)
- ChangesBowie (1990)
- The Singles Collection (1993)
- The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997)
- Best of Bowie (2002)
- The Platinum Collection (2006)
- Nothing Has Changed (2014) – original single mix
- Bowie Legacy (2016) – original single mix
- The original single mix of the song was also released on the bonus disc of Aladdin Sane – 30th Anniversary Edition, in 2003, and on Re:Call 1, part of the Five Years (1969–1973) boxed set, in 2015.
- Picture disc versions were released in both the RCA Life Time picture disc set and the Fashion Picture Disc Set.
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 along to the song as it plays on a record player in his bedroom; the song continues to play as the scene changes to Curtis and Debbie going to a Bowie concert.
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- Carr & Murray 1981, p. 52.
- Pegg 2000, pp. 110–111.
- "FAQ; Simple Minds". Simple Minds. Archived from the original on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- David Bowie & Mick Rock (2005). Moonage Daydream: pp.140–146
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- Pegg 2011, p. 430.
- Buckley 1999, p. 184.
- Mark Blake (Ed.) (2007). "Future Legend", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: pp.74–75
- "Ultratop.be – David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
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- Cann, Kevin (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974. Adelita. ISBN 978-0-95520-177-6.
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