The Jean Genie

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"The Jean Genie"
Single by David Bowie
from the album Aladdin Sane
B-side"Ziggy Stardust"
Released24 November 1972 (1972-11-24)
Recorded6 October 1972 (1972-10-06)
StudioRCA, New York City
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
David Bowie singles chronology
"John, I'm Only Dancing"
"The Jean Genie"
"Drive-In Saturday"
Music video
David Bowie – "The Jean Genie" (Official Video) on YouTube

"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[edit]

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.[4] 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,[5] where he spent time with the Warhol set's Cyrinda Foxe.[6] Bowie later asserted, "I wrote it for her amusement in her apartment. Sexy girl."[7] Bowie later in the 1990s described the song as "a smorgasbord of imagined America" and "my first New York song."[6]

The recording took place at New York's RCA Studios on 6 October 1972.[8] "I had a really great conversation with [bassist] Trevor Bolder," recalled Def Leppard's Joe Elliott. "I said, 'You remember when you were doing The Jean Genie?' He said, 'No. We did it in an hour and a half.'"[9]

Mixing occurred the following week at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee;[10] the original single mix is in narrow stereo, while the stereo soundscape is wider in the album mix.

Music and lyrics[edit]

The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to the Yardbirds, especially their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man",[3][11] 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.[11] 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."[12] The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" later gave the band Simple Minds their name.[13]

The title has long been taken as an allusion to the author Jean Genet.[11] Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes".[12] 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".[14]

Music video[edit]

Bowie at the Mars Hotel, 192 Fourth Street, San Francisco, California, 1972

Mick Rock directed a film clip to promote the song, in October 1972 in San Francisco,[15] 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.[7] 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.[14]

Bowie also recorded "The Jean Genie" for BBC's 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.[16] 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 to share his historic material, and was surprised to find he was the only one with a surviving copy. The film has since been preserved and was shown at the British Film Institute in December 2011.[17] 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.[16]

Release and aftermath[edit]

"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.[18] On the album, it appears as the ninth and penultimate track.[19] It spent 13 weeks on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 2, making it Bowie's biggest hit until that time; it was kept off the top spot by Little Jimmy Osmond's "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool".[20] In the US, it reached No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100.[20] While biographer David Buckley has described it as "derivative, plodding, if undeniably catchy",[21] 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 The Sweet issued the song "Block Buster!", utilising a riff very similar to "The Jean Genie".[11][22] The 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...'"[12]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie.[18]

  1. "The Jean Genie" – 4:02
  2. "Ziggy Stardust" – 3:13

The US release had "Hang On to Yourself" as the B-side, while the B-side of the Japanese release was "John, I'm Only Dancing".


According to Chris O'Leary:[23]



Chart (1972–1973) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[verification needed] 42
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[24] 26
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[25] 7
Canadian RPM Top Singles[26] 75
France (SNEP)[27] 22[verification needed]
West Germany (Official German Charts)[28] 37
Irish Singles Chart[29] 3
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[30] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[31] 5
Spanish Singles Chart[32] 8
UK Singles Chart (OCC)[33] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[34] 71


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[35] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Live versions[edit]

Other releases[edit]

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

  • 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.[37][38]


  1. ^ Savage, Jon (1 February 2013). "The 20 best glam-rock songs of all time". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  2. ^ Wolk, Douglas (1 October 2015). "David Bowie – Five Years 1969–1973". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 6 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b Thompson, Dave. ""The Jean Genie" – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 7 June 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  4. ^ Pegg 2011, pp. 428–429.
  5. ^ Pegg 2011, p. 425.
  6. ^ a b Pegg 2011, p. 429.
  7. ^ a b Gordinier, Jeff (31 May 2002), "Loving the Aliens", Entertainment Weekly, no. 656, pp. 26–34
  8. ^ Cann 2010, p. 270.
  9. ^ Wall, Mick (May 2018). "A wild ride over stony ground". Classic Rock. No. 248. p. 39.
  10. ^ Cann 2010, p. 271.
  11. ^ a b c d Carr & Murray 1981, p. 52.
  12. ^ a b c Pegg 2000, pp. 110–111.
  13. ^ "FAQ; Simple Minds". Simple Minds. Archived from the original on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
  14. ^ a b David Bowie & Mick Rock (2005). Moonage Daydream: pp.140–146
  15. ^ "Mick Rock. David Bowie with Cyrinda Foxe, 1972 – TASCHEN Books". Taschen. Archived from the original on 7 March 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  16. ^ a b "Top of the Pops 2". Top of the Pops. 21 December 2011. BBC. Archived from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  17. ^ "David Bowie Top of the Pops footage found by cameraman". BBC News. 13 December 2011. Archived from the original on 13 December 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  18. ^ a b "The Jean Genie" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Records. 1972. RCA 2302.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  19. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Aladdin Sane – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  20. ^ a b Pegg 2011, p. 430.
  21. ^ Buckley 1999, p. 184.
  22. ^ Mark Blake (Ed.) (2007). "Future Legend", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: pp.74–75
  23. ^ O'Leary 2015, chap. 6.
  24. ^ "David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  25. ^ "David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  26. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - January 13, 1973" (PDF).
  27. ^ "David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in French). Les classement single.
  28. ^ " – David Bowie – The Jean Genie". GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved 14 February 2019. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON David Bowie"
  29. ^ "The Jean Genie in Irish Chart". IRMA. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 19 July 2013. Only one result when searching "Jean Genie"
  30. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – David Bowie" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  31. ^ "David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  32. ^ "Hits of the World – Spain". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 12 May 1973. p. 64. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  33. ^ "1973 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive – 13th January 1973". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  34. ^ "Aladdin Sane awards on AllMusic". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  35. ^ "British single certifications – David Bowie – The Jean Genie". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  36. ^ Kreps, Daniel (29 January 2021). "David Bowie's 'Brilliant Live Adventures' Series Continues With 1997 Festival Gig". Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  37. ^ "Four Bowie Compositions on Control Soundtrack". David Bowie. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  38. ^ Pegg, Nicholas (2 November 2016). The Complete David Bowie: New Edition: Expanded and Updated. Titan Books. ISBN 9781785655333.