He sang a live vocal over a re-recorded backing track. The instruments had been recorded by Tony Visconti at Good Earth Studios in Soho, London, and featured Visconti on bass guitar, Sean Mayes on keyboards, Simon House on violin, Andy Duncan on drums, and Ricky Hitchcock and Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson on guitars.
The audio recording took place on 9 April 1979. The Kenny Everett Video Show was filmed the following day and broadcast on 23 April. Towards the end of the clip Bowie mimed to Robertson’s guitar solo with a violin, which was smashed during a following skit with Everett.
The director of the Everett show was David Mallet, whom Bowie swiftly hired for the ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, ‘DJ’, and ‘Look Back In Anger’ promos. This was the start of a long-running collaboration which resulted in videos for ‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Wild Is The Wind’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Loving The Alien’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’.
On 15 December 1979, Bowie appeared on Saturday Night Live at NBC Studios in New York City. He performed ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, and ‘TVC 15’.
Bowie was accompanied by his core band members Carlos Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis, as well as Isolar Tour guitarist Stacey Heydon and Blondie keyboard player Jimmy Destri. There were also two backing singers – German artist Klaus Nomi, and Joey Arias.
During ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, Bowie’s head was superimposed over a puppet body which he operated. This was overlaid onto the band’s live performance.
NBC’s prudishness led to the line “Other boys check you out” being muted from the broadcast. Curiously, they failed to omit the phallus thrusting from Bowie’s marionette at the song’s close.
On 14 December 1995, Bowie and his band appeared on Channel 4’s The White Room in the UK, where they performed a live set which included ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.
Curiously, Bowie opted not to perform ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ in concert until the Outside Tour in 1995 and 1996. Even then, it was only performed during a handful of shows in each year.
His final public performance of the song was on 20 February 1996 at the Palais Omnisports in Paris, France.
I don’t see this song as being particularly about ‘gloating over gender inequality’, nor is he merely ‘mocking locker-room machismo’.
I think it’s an ode to youth — you believe you can do anything when you’re a boy, or to quote another songwriter of note, ‘When I was a boy / Everything was right’.
However, it could also be seen as Bowie mocking the idea that males are particularly special at all: ‘You’re always first on the line’ references the fact that men are the first to die in violent conflicts and wars, while the sheer overblown-ness of statements such as ‘Heaven loves ya / The clouds part for ya / Nothing stands in your way when you’re a boy’ are a gentle dig at the idea that those things could be true. ‘When you’re a boy, you can buy a home of your own / Learn to drive and everything’ — these are things anyone can do, they’re not particularly special.
As he himself put it, ‘The glory in that song was ironic. I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female. I was merely playing on the idea of the colonization of a gender.’
You’re factually incorrect about the backing track, it was a re-recorded version that he sung over, so the solo he smashed the violin to was Brian Robertson’s,not Adrian Belew’s.
The musicians have been credited on the officail Bowie website:
“This take was recorded by Tony Visconti in Soho in London on the 9th April 1979 and features Sean Mayes on keyboards, Tony Visconti on bass, Simon House on violin, Andy Duncan on drums, Brian Robertson (of Thin Lizzy) on guitar and Ricky Hitchcock on guitar. The Kenny Everett Video Show was filmed on the following day and broadcast on 23rd April, 1979.”