Released: 14 November 1969
David Bowie: vocals, kalimba
Tim Renwick: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Terry Cox: drums
One of the few upbeat moments on David Bowie’s second album, ‘Janine’ was written about the girlfriend of his former schoolfriend and bandmate George Underwood.
Mmm. This is a bit hard to explain without sounding nasty. It was written about my old mate George and is about a girl he used to go out with. It’s how I thought he should see her.
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969
The song is also notable for introducing the concept of depersonalisation, which Bowie would explore in greater depth in songs such as ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. When he sings “If you take an axe to me/You’ll kill another man/Not me at all” he is referring to the strength of his friendship with Underwood, but the lines showed that he was already viewing himself from a detached, outsider’s perspective. The song also hints at the cracked actor’s mask, with the lines “I’ve got to keep my veil on my face”, and “I’ve got things inside my head that even I can’t face”.
I couldn’t figure out what David was trying to say with the song. He told me, ‘I’m doing it like Elvis Presley.’ I think he was trying to tell me something but I still don’t know what. He never came out and said he didn’t like my girlfriend or anything, he was always nice to her and she never upset him as far as I knew.
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann
Bowie began performing ‘Janine’ live in February 1969, initially as a duo with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. It remained part of his live set until early 1970.
Bowie was interviewed by US journalist Patrick Salvo shortly after the release of The Man Who Sold The World. When the journalist asked Bowie about the song ‘Cygnet Committee’ he expressed surprise, and noted that ‘Janine’ was one of the album tracks that received more attention.
SALVO: In another one your songs, ‘Cygnet Committee’, you get totally involved in the so-called militant hippie movement.
BOWIE: Wow – why did you pick that one? That’s crazy, nobody picks that one, they get hung up on ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’, ‘Space Oddity’, and that’s it. Maybe ‘Janine’, but this is remarkable.
Interview, March 1973