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)
Format7" single
RecordedRCA Studios, New York City
6 October 1972 (1972-10-06)
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 musician David Bowie, originally released in November 1972 as the lead single to his 1973 album Aladdin Sane. 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.

Music and lyrics[edit]

Bowie composed "The Jean Genie" in autumn 1972, 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."[4] The recording took place at New York's RCA Studios on 6 October 1972.[5] Mixing occurred the following week at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee;[6] the original single mix is in narrow stereo, while the stereo soundscape is wider in the album mix.

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][7], but was most probably inspired by French singer Jacques Dutronc's La Fille du Père Noël (1966),[8] while the lyrics have been likened to the "stylised sleaze" of The Velvet Underground.[7] 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."[9] The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" later gave the band Simple Minds their name.[10]

The title has long been taken as an allusion to the author Jean Genet.[7] Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes".[9] 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".[11]

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,[12] 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.[4] 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.[11]

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.[13] 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 afficianado Ray Langstone who persuaded John to share his historic material.[citation needed] The film has since been preserved and was shown at the British Film Institute in December 2011.[14] 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.[13][15]

Release and aftermath[edit]

Some controversy arose in the UK when fellow RCA act Sweet issued "Block Buster!", utilising a riff very similar to "The Jean Genie".[7][16] 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...'"[9]

"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",[17] it remains one of Bowie's signature tunes, and was often played at his concerts.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "The Jean Genie" (Bowie) – 4:02
  2. "Ziggy Stardust" (Bowie) – 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".





Chart (1972–1973) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 42
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[18] 26
Canadian RPM Top Singles[19] 75
France (SNEP)[20] 22
West Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 37
Irish Singles Chart[22] 3
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[23] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[24] 5
UK (Official Charts Company)[25] 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[26] 71

Live versions[edit]

Other releases[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

Appearances in popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Savage, Jon (1 February 2013). "The 20 best glam-rock songs of all time". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  2. ^ Wolk, Douglas (1 October 2015). "David Bowie - Five Years 1969-1973". Pitchfork. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b Dave Thompson, Allmusic
  4. ^ a b Gordinier, Jeff (31 May 2002), "Loving the Aliens", Entertainment Weekly, no. 656, pp. 26–34
  5. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: p.270
  6. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: p.271
  7. ^ a b c d Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.52
  8. ^ Productions GG (17 April 2018). "Jacques Dutronc - La Fille Du Pere Noel". Retrieved 6 March 2019 – via YouTube.
  9. ^ a b c Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.110-111
  10. ^ "FAQ; Simple Minds". Simple Minds. Retrieved 14 May 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)
  11. ^ a b David Bowie & Mick Rock (2005). Moonage Daydream: pp.140-146
  12. ^ TASCHEN. "Mick Rock. David Bowie with Cyrinda Foxe, 1972 - TASCHEN Books". Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Top of the Pops 2". Top of the Pops. 21 December 2011. BBC. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  14. ^ "David Bowie Top of the Pops footage found by cameraman". BBC News. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  15. ^ "David Bowie's lost 1973 Top of the Pops performance of The Jean Genie". YouTube. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  16. ^ Mark Blake (Ed.) (2007). "Future Legend", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: pp.74-75
  17. ^ David Buckley (1999) Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.184
  18. ^ " – David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  19. ^ "The Jean Genie in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  20. ^ " – David Bowie – Life On Mars?" (in French). Les classement single.
  21. ^ " – David Bowie – The Jean Genie". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 14 February 2019. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON David Bowie"
  22. ^ "The Jean Genie in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 19 July 2013. Only one result when searching "Jean Genie"
  23. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – David Bowie" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  24. ^ " – David Bowie – The Jean Genie" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  25. ^ "1973 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 13th January 1973". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  26. ^ "Aladdin Sane awards on Allmusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 July 2013.


External links[edit]