In the studio

David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars first recorded ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ on 24 June 1972 at London’s Trident Studios, with Ken Scott producing.

They recorded two takes of the song, along with two of the Who’s ‘I Can’t Explain’. Neither song was judged to be satisfactory, and both recordings remain unreleased. The songs were later recorded – ‘I Can’t Explain’ the following year for Pin Ups.

Bowie returned to ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ on Monday 26 June 1972, self-producing a session at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, with Keith Harwood engineering.

Nine takes were recorded during the session, one of which was chosen for the band’s next single.

The Spiders From Mars were joined by violinist Lindsay Scott, whose instrument can be heard at the end of each chorus. Scott was a member of the band JSD, who often opened for Bowie during the early Ziggy Stardust Tour dates.

The handclaps, meanwhile, were recorded in the studio hallway to achieve the desired echo effect.

While we were in the US our new single, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, was slowly climbing the charts back in the UK. We’d spent a few days in Olympic Studios, London, back in June, recording it. I was particularly proud of my tom-tom fills which definitely added dynamics to the arrangement. We were all in the studio recording backing vocals for the song when Rod Stewart and the Faces burst in through one of the doors. They were dancing about and singing ‘la, la, las’ until everybody cracked up laughing. Then one of them said, ‘See ya later’, and they exited through one of the other doors as quickly as they’d arrived.
Woody Woodmansey
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie

Parts of Aladdin Sane were recorded while Bowie was on tour in the USA. On 7 October 1972 a session took place at RCA Studios in Chicago, where a new version of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was recorded. This version, however, was never released.

Much of the album was recorded back at Trident. From 19-24 January 1973 they taped the final versions of ‘Cracked Actor’, ‘Panic In Detroit’, ‘Time’, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, and ‘Lady Grinning Soul’.

They also recorded an early version of ‘1984’, and what became known as the ‘sax version’ of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, the third version of the song. The new recording featured Ken Fordham on saxophone.

NME reporter Charles Shaar Murray was present for some of the sessions.

Saturday Night at Trident studios. The door swings open and the entrant is nearly knocked off his teenage feet by a blast furnace rendition of ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ clawing its way out of the jumbo-sized speakers. Mick Ronson sits in the corner in a bejewelled Marilyn Monroe T-shirt and the ubiquitous Miss Fussey’s there as well. David, resplendent in an outside velvet po’ boy cap waves an exuberant hello from behind the control panel where he’s sitting with Ken Scott, engineer and/or producer to all the nicest and niftiest names. The new cut of ‘John’ has a murderously high energy level, which by comparison makes the single version sound like one man with a three stringed acoustic. It virtually blisters the ears to make it even more obvious that the Spiders are one of our best bands.
Charles Shaar Murray
New Musical Express, 27 January 1973

On 31 January 1973 Ken Scott assembled a master tape for the new album. It contained eleven songs, ending with the new version of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’.

Three months ago, I sat on the floor in the mixing room at Trident Studios in the company of David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Ken Scott and sundry others and heard the bulk of this album hot off the tapes. Since then I’ve carried the memory of it around with me, waiting to hear it again and see how accurately I’d remembered it…

The album’s changed slightly since I first heard the tapes in that the recut ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ has been replaced by ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, originally intended as the B side of ‘Drive-In Saturday’, and a then incomplete track called ‘Zion’ has been replaced by ‘Lady Grinning Soul’.

Charles Shaar Murray
New Musical Express, 14 April 1973