Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 24, 26 June; 7 October 1972; January 1973
Producers: Ken Scott, David Bowie
Released: 1 September 1972
David Bowie: vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, saxophone
Mick Ronson: electric guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
Lindsay Scott: violin (1972 version)
Ken Fordham: saxophone (1973 version)
Five Years (1969-1973)
Live Santa Monica ’72
‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was David Bowie’s follow-up to the hit single ‘Starman’. He recorded versions of it in 1972 and 1973, and in 1975 remade it as ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’.
It was my attempt to do a bisexual anthem, and it was incredibly successful. I was amazed that the Beeb played it.
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann
Standalone singles were common in the 1960s and 1970s, when artists and management sought to give their fans value for money by not endlessly issuing songs as singles which were already available on albums. The practice mostly died out in the 1980s, when record labels became more determined to exploit every possible song for hit singles.
There was a big discussion about whether to put it out or not, a song not from an album – I thought the mood of it was just right for the way things were developing. Then when it didn’t chart so high, Tony [Defries] was taking the piss, like, ‘So much for your powers of perception…’
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
In America RCA chose not to release the single, due to its suggestively homoerotic lyrics.
RCA considered the song too risqué to release it in the US and Top of the Pops banned the video and refused to play it, the reason given that it wasn’t to the BBC’s taste… It was released on 1 September and by the time we’d got to New York it had reached Number 30 in the singles charts. It eventually peaked at Number 12 on 8 October. We were too busy in the US to think about the fact it wasn’t performing quite as well as ‘Starman’.
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie
Bowie first performed ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ live in July 1972, a few weeks after first version was recorded. It was dropped from his setlist after the Japanese leg of the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1973, but revived for some of the Sound + Vision Tour dates in 1990.
In December 1979 Bowie recorded an hour-long radio special, to promote the ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’ single. The show was broadcast on 20 January 1980, by the syndicated US radio show ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour’, as David Bowie – A Look at the Seventies.
During the show Bowie played a number of songs from the 1970s, including several of his own. The running order was ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Instant Karma!’ (John Lennon), ‘Saviour Machine’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Deborah’ (Tyrannosaurus Rex), ‘Autobahn’ (Kraftwerk), ‘I Feel Love’ (Donna Summer), ‘DJ’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’, ‘Virginia Plain’ (Roxy Music), ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges), ‘I’m Looking For A Love’ (Bobby Womack), ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ (Ann Peebles), ‘Fame’, ‘Trial-Prison (Philip Glass), ‘Don’t Worry About The Government’ (Talking Heads), and ‘Where Were You?’ (The Mekons).