‘The Jean Genie’ was released as a single on 24 November 1972. It was promoted with an advertisement which stated: “Written on the road. Recorded in New York. Mixed in Nashville. The first single to come from Bowie’s triumphant American tour.”
In the UK the song became Bowie’s biggest hit to date, reaching number two in the charts in January 1973, and held off the top spot by Little Jimmy Osmond’s ‘Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool’.
‘The Jean Genie’ reached number three in Ireland, and made the top 10 in the Netherlands. In the US it fared less well, peaking at number 71 on the Billboard Hot 100.
‘The Jean Genie’ was done to be a big hit. Yeah, it’s cute, but it’s not one of my favourites.
Aladdin Sane – 30th Anniversary Edition
I’m hearing Mick’s incredible solo with single notes so fast! He’s one of the top rock guitarists. What a handsome bloke! He was the perfect sideman for David. When they blended vocally it was frightening. Sometimes you don’t know who’s singing what! #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) June 28, 2020
January 1973 saw the release of ‘Blockbuster!’ by the Sweet. By coincidence – according to all parties – the song’s central riff was identical to that of Bowie’s song.
The Sweet’s single fared better, displacing Osmond at the top of the UK charts, also hitting number one in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and becoming a top 10 hit in Finland, Norway, South Africa and Switzerland. It may have been a small consolation to Bowie that ‘Blockbuster!’ went no higher than number 73 in the USA, two places lower than ‘The Jean Genie’.
Top Of The Pops performance
Bowie and the Spiders performed ‘The Jean Genie’ on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on 3 January 1973, and broadcast the following day.
Unusually for the time, the band played the song live in the studio. Their third take was the one shown, despite an error in the final section where Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey went into the final choruses before Bowie and Ronson were ready. “Everyone thought it was me,” Bolder later said, “but the whole band missed the cue. It was a real mess.”
We were playing a live version of the song with an extended guitar solo, which would last as long as Mick felt it should last, so eye contact was important – I knew Mick would give me a nod as he finished his solo. In the recording you can see me turning my head around to be able to see his cue.
By the time the show was broadcast we had been on our way to the Glasgow gig and never actually saw it. None of us probably thought about it much again.
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie
The TOTP footage was wiped by the BBC, and for decades was believed lost. However, a copy had been made by cameraman John Henshall, who was operating a fisheye lens during the shoot.
First I went with Richard Turley, a producer from the BBC, to Westpoint Television, a company which specialises in playing and copying very old broadcast video tapes. It was an amazing spine-tingling experience when David Bowie performing ‘The Jean Genie’ live on ‘Top of the Pops’ in January 1973 came up on screen in superb broadcast quality. It was the first time the tape has been played for over 38 years. It is ‘rarer than rare’ to quote Ray Langstone, who heard me mention that I have the recording when I was on BBC Radio 2’s ‘Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the Seventies’ a couple of months ago.
It seems that people have been searching for this recording, on which Bowie played live, for years without success. Until now! The BBC wiped their tape after the original broadcast and there is no other version. Why do I have it? Well I was a young cameraman at the time and used one of my Telefex Fisheye lenses on my camera. I’m even in shot myself! So I went down to VTR and asked them to make me a copy – on 2-inch broadcast videotape. No VHS in those days.
davidbowie.com, 27 November 2011
Henshall’s tape was restored by the British Film Institute, and premiered by them during a Missing Believed Wiped event on 11 December 2011. Ten days later it was shown as part of a Top Of The Pops 2 Christmas special.
The audio of the TOTP performance was the b-side of a 7″ picture disc of ‘The Jean Genie’ in 2012.
It felt odd that this moment had been sitting in a drawer somewhere, one song from so many that we played together over those years. We didn’t know then what those songs would come to mean to people all over the world. I had no idea that more than four decades later, people would still come up to me and tell me that watching us changed their life, made them think differently. We were just up there, playing the best we could.
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie