"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 #2 on the UK charts.

Music and lyrics[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"The Jean Genie" was composed and recorded 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."[1] The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to The Yardbirds, especially their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man",[2][3]while the lyrics have been likened to the "stylised sleaze" of The Velvet Underground.[2] 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."[4] The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" would later give the band Simple Minds their name.[5]

The title has long been taken as a pun on the name of author Jean Genet.[2] Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes".[4] 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".[6]

Music video[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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 HotelSan Francisco, with Cyrinda Foxe.[1] Bowie wanted the video to depict "Ziggy as a kind of Hollywood street-rat" with a "consort of theMarilyn brand". This led to Foxe's casting, and she flew from New York to San Francisco especially for the shoot.[6]

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 byMick Ronson.[7] 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 new fisheye lens camera techniques for the performance. The film has since been preserved for posterity and was shown at the British Film Institute in December 2011.[8] 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.[7]

Release and aftermath[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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".[2][9] Sweet's single, written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, and recorded and released slightly later than Bowie's song, made #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...'"[4]

"The Jean Genie" spent 13 weeks in the UK charts. It peaked at #2, making it Bowie's biggest hit to date. In the US, it reached #71 (this time beating "Block Buster!", which made #73). While biographer David Buckley has described it as "derivative, plodding, if undeniably catchy",[10] it remains one of Bowie's signature tunes, and has often been played at his concerts since its release.

Track listing[edit source | editbeta]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".

Production credits[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Charts[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1972-1973) Peak


Australia (Kent Music Report) 42
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[11] 26
Canadian RPM Top Singles[12] 75
France (SNEP)[13] 22
Germany (Media Control AG)[14] 37
Irish Singles Chart[15] 3
Italy (FIMI)[16] 38
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[17] 7
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[18] 5
UK (Official Charts Company)[19] 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[20] 71

Live versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • A live version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 was released on Santa Monica '72. This version also appeared on the Japanese release of RarestOneBowie and on the bonus disc of the Aladdin Sane - 30th Anniversary Edition in 2003.
  • The song was played at the Hammersmith OdeonLondon, 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.
  • Billy Corgan performed the song live with David Bowie on Bowie's 50th Birthday Bash concert in January 1997.

Other releases[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Cover versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • 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[edit source | editbeta]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 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.
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