In the studio
‘The Jean Genie’ was recorded on 6 and 7 October 1972 at RCA Studio D in Manhattan, New York City. It was David Bowie’s first recording to be self-produced.
We did it in just one take, adding some harp [harmonica] and other things and that was it. It took about one-and-a-half hours from start to finish and the single was being pressed in England within weeks.
The backing track was recorded in a single take, after which overdubs were added. The released version kept Bowie’s admonishment “Get back on it” as the band entered the first chorus one bar early.
It took about a day to get the basic track down plus some overdubs, then a few more overdubs the next day. It’s a great song, simple but full of energy with that huge guitar riff of Mick’s, held in check by me and Trevor. I love the famous fuck-up in it where Trevor goes to the chorus too early. He pointed it out to Bowie at the time and Bowie said, ‘Leave it in, I like it.’ When we played that song live, Bowie told Trev to repeat the mistake. It was mixed in RCA Nashville, Studio B, and was to be our next single.
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie
There's such a catchy bass line on this song. Good ol’ Trevor was great at even the simplest of bass lines like this. He’s another friend I really miss so dearly. To not have him and Mick around – and David, of course. It’s surreal. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) June 28, 2020
‘The Jean Genie’ was first performed on 7 October, at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, the day the recording was completed.
The song was mixed in mono and stereo later that month in Nashville by Bowie and Mick Ronson, ahead of the single release. It was subsequently remixed for the Aladdin Sane album with the amount of reverb reduced.
It can’t get any simpler than this. Just let the guys go!
Five Years (1969-1973) book
Right here you’ll hear a mistake that we made as a band when we recorded this – an extra bar! Leave it to David to leave it in. So when we played this on my alumni @bowietour shows we’d have to remember the extra bar because it’s just not natural. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) June 28, 2020
A promotional film for ‘The Jean Genie’ was directed by Mick Rock in San Francisco on 27 and 28 October 1972.
It had live footage of Bowie and the Spiders From Mars from the second of two shows at the Winterland Ballroom, in addition to scenes filmed in and around the Mars Hotel. One of the cameramen at the shoot was Jerry Slick, the first husband of Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick.
We shot Bowie and Cyrinda on the streets outside the Mars Hotel fairly early in the day. He played the Winterland that night – I remember Sylvester and his band were one of the support acts. I viewed the footage we had the next morning, and thought we didn’t have enough stuff, but, of course, there was no more budget. Somehow I got some more dollars off Defries to rent an Arriflex camera, a silent one, and I went and shot all the live stuff myself the next night, because David did two nights at the Winterland. So, I filmed him singing ‘The Jean Genie’ that night, processed overnight and, because there was no time, edited in one ten-hour rush. If you look at it now, there are no effects whatsoever – they’re all cuts. But lots of the cuts were a matter of necessity because I had to chop it up a lot to keep everything in synch with his live performance, which was fairly close to the recorded version, as he’d only just recorded it. Necessity, as ever, is often the mother of interesting art, and it certainly was in this case.
Aladdin Sane – 30th Anniversary Edition
Co-starring with Bowie in the footage was Cyrinda Foxe, an American actress, model and publicist who flew from NYC to San Francisco to take part in the shoot.
Foxe was a regular at Max’s Kansas City, a regular nightspot for musicians, artists and writers in the Sixties and Seventies. She had an affair with Bowie during the US tour, while working for Tony Defries at MainMan, Bowie’s management company.
It looks sort of Beatle-y now. It was very new in terms of the way it was dressed. We wanted to get a very graphic, white, almost Vogue look – big faces, big bits of faces, eyes against stark white backdrops, and to throw in an environment, so we found a place called the Mars Hotel in California somewhere and we stuck the band in there.
Wanting it to locate Ziggy as a kind of Hollywood street-rat, it became important to me that he had a consort of the Marilyn brand. So I telephoned Cyrinda Foxe in New York and asked her if she was into playing the role. She was, quite rightly, as no-one could have done it better, and she flew in immediately.