The video

David Bowie’s first purpose-made promotional video of the Seventies was for ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’.

It was filmed by Mick Rock during rehearsals for Bowie’s three concerts at the Rainbow Theatre in London in August 1972, to a budget of just £200.

I remember the lyrics at the time seeming quite ambiguous to me. The song could be about a guy dancing with a girl and telling his boyfriend not to worry, he was ‘only dancing’, or he was talking to a friend whose girlfriend he was dancing with. Mick Rock had filmed us playing the track during rehearsals at the Rainbow and this footage became the video.
Woody Woodmansey
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie

A record player was hooked up to the Rainbow’s PA system, to which Bowie and the Spiders mimed their parts. Bowie had a small anchor symbol drawn on his left cheek, a style choice inspired by Samantha from the US TV show Bewitched.

When the TV series Bewitched went into colour in the late 1960s, for some strange reason Samantha occasionally wore tiny tattoos on her face. I thought it looked really odd, but inspired. So I used a little anchor on my face myself for the ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ video.
David Bowie
Moonage Daydream: The Life And Times Of Ziggy Stardust

Rock also mixed in footage of the Astronettes – then a dance troupe led by Lindsay Kemp – dancing from the previous week’s rehearsals. The Astronettes wore spider web costumes by Natasha Korniloff.

Bowie wore a leather jacket for the shoot which made a reappearance in the promo film for ‘The Jean Genie’.

I’d just had a couple of very James Deanish jackets sent over from London, which I’d also worn in the ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ promo. I felt they were perfect for the ‘American’ Ziggy’s video for ‘Jean Genie’, too. One for me and one for Cyrinda. Rock and I did a quick photo try out for them in the grounds of the [Beverly Hills] hotel.
David Bowie
Moonage Daydream: The Life And Times Of Ziggy Stardust

The BBC refused to show the video for ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ – possibly due to the suggestive lyrics and imagery, but more probably due to Bowie’s manager Tony Defries’ demand for £250 payment to show it.

The release

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was released as a single in the UK on 1 September 1972, with ‘Hang On To Yourself’ on the b-side.

The single spent ten weeks on the chart, peaking at number 12. Its catalogue number was RCA 2263.

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was also released in Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa,

In April 1973 the ‘sax version’ was released as a single, confusingly with the same catalogue number as the 1972 recording. ‘Hang On To Yourself’ was again on the b-side.

The easiest way to differentiate between the two UK pressings is to look at the matrix number scratched onto the vinyl, which had 2E on the end of the sax version.

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was first released in the USA in 1976, when it appeared on the ChangesOneBowie compilation.

Due to a mastering error, the first 1,000 copies of the UK pressing of ChangesOneBowie featured the sax version. Subsequent pressings contained the original version, as did the US release.

The original 1972 recording was remixed in 1979 and released as the b-side of the ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’ single in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and South Africa. In Germany the two sides were reversed, so the remix of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ was the lead track.

The remix, which raised the level of Bowie’s vocals and reduced the reverb, was also released as a single in 1979 in Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Spain and the USA, with the “Heroes” song ‘Joe The Lion’ on the b-side.

Why did you release two more versions of ‘John I’m Only Dancing’?

Only because we dug them up and the beat version was something that never got on the Young Americans album. It seemed so right at the time and RCA wanted to put it out, and I agreed to it fully. It was just some more material that was held back there. I’ve still got lots of things canned like that which I’d like to release, things like ‘White Light/White Heat’ with the Spiders.

David Bowie
NME, 13 September 1980

A live version of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, recorded at the Music Hall in Boston, USA, on 1 October 1972, was included on the 1989 box set Sound + Vision, but left off subsequent editions.

The Boston recording was also included on the bonus disc of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Aladdin Sane in 2003. Another live version, from 20 October 1972, was released on Live Santa Monica ’72.

The 1972 studio recording was included on the compilations ChangesBowie and The Singles 1969-1993, and the 2002 30th Anniversary reissue of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

The sax version was included on The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974, the Sound + Vision box set, and the 2003 reissue of Aladdin Sane. The 1990 Rykodisc reissue of Ziggy, meanwhile, contained the 1979 remix as a bonus track.

Re:Call 1, included in the 2015 box set Five Years (1969-1973), contained both the original and sax versions.