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"The Jean Genie" is a single by David Bowie, released in November 1972. One of Bowie’s most famous songs, it was the lead single for the album Aladdin Sane (1973).

Music and lyrics

"The Jean Genie" was composed and recorded in New York Citymarker, where Bowie spent time hanging out with the Warhol set's Cyrinda Foxe. The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to The Yardbirds (and specifically their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man") while the lyrics have been likened to the "stylised sleaze" of The Velvet Underground. The subject matter was inspired in part by Bowie's friend Iggy Pop or, in Bowie's own words, "an Iggy-type character... it wasn't actually Iggy." The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" would later give the band Simple Minds their name. The title has long been taken as a pun on the name of the homosexual author Jean Genet. Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes". In his book "Moonage Daydream" in 2005, he stated this more unequivocally: "Starting out as a lightweight riff thing I had written one evening in NY for Cyrinda’s enjoyment, I developed the lyric to the otherwise wordless pumper and it ultimately turned into a bit of a smorgasbord of imagined Americana ... based on an Iggy-type persona ... The title, of course, was a clumsy pun upon Jean Genet".


Mick Rock directed a film clip to promote the song, mixing concert and studio footage of Bowie performing with the Spiders From Mars, along with location shots of the singer posing at the Mars Hotel, San Franciscomarker, with Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie wanted the video to depict "Ziggy as a kind of Hollywood street-rat" with a "consort of the Marilyn brand". This led to Foxe's casting, and she flew from New York to San Francisco especially for the shoot.

Release and aftermath

There was some controversy in the UK following the song's release as it utilised a riff very similar to fellow RCA act The Sweet's "Block Buster!". Sweet's single, written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, and recorded and released slightly later than Bowie's song, made #1 in the UK charts while "The Jean Genie" occupied #2. All parties maintained that the similarity was, in Nicky Chinn's words, "absolute coincidence". Chinn described a meeting with Bowie at which the latter "looked at me completely deadpan and said 'Cunt!' And then he got up and gave me a hug and said, 'Congratulations...'"

"The Jean Genie"'s 13 weeks in the UK charts, peaking at #2, made it Bowie's biggest hit to date. In the US it reached #71 (this time beating "Block Buster!", which made #73). Though the song has its detractors, biographer David Buckley for instance describing it as "derivative, plodding, if undeniably catchy", it remains one of Bowie's signature tunes, and has often been played at his concerts since its release.

Track listing

  1. "The Jean Genie" (Bowie) – 4:02
  2. "Ziggy Stardust" (Bowie) – 3:13

The US release had "Hang on to Yourself" as the B-side, while the B-side of the Japanese release was "John, I'm Only Dancing".

Production credits


Chart (1973) Peak

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 71
Canadian Singles Chart 75
UK Singles Chart 2
German Singles Chart 37
Australian Singles Chart 42

Live versions

  • A live version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 was released on Santa Monica '72. This version also appeared on the Japanese release of RarestOneBowie and on the bonus disc of the Aladdin Sane - 30th Anniversary Edition in 2003.
  • The song was played at the Hammersmith Odeonmarker, Londonmarker, on 3 July 1973 but was left off the Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture album. This particular version featured Jeff Beck on guitar.
  • A live version from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the semi-legal album A Portrait in Flesh.
  • Billy Corgan performed the song live with David Bowie on Bowie's 50th Birthday Bash concert in January 1997.

Other releases

Cover versions

  • The Diamonds - Million Copy Hit Songs Made Famous by Elton John & David Bowie
  • Marillion often interpolated the song during live performances of their single Market Square Heroes
  • Die Lady Di - Ashes to Ashes: A Tribute to David Bowie (1998)
  • Fernando - Crash Course for the Ravers - A Tribute to the Songs of David Bowie (1996)
  • Children of the Revolution - Hero: The Main Man Records Tribute to David Bowie (2007)
  • Hothouse Flowers (& friends) - Live recording
  • The Rockridge Synthesiser Orchestra - Plays David Bowie Classic Trax
  • Arno & Beverly Jo Scott - "La fille du père Noël meets Jean Genie"; this track appears as "Jean Baltazaarrr" on the compilation BowieMania: Mania, une collection obsessionelle de Beatrice Ardisson (2007)
  • Van Halen - Live recording
  • Enuff Z'Nuff from their album 10 (2000) and Hero: The Main Man Records Tribute to David Bowie (2007).
  • The Dandy Warhols - Come on Feel the Dandy Warhols
  • Paco Volume - BowieMania: Mania, une collection obsessionelle de Beatrice Ardisson (2007)
  • Edmund Butt - "Gene Genie" (Gene Hunt's theme from Ashes to Ashes) on Ashes to Ashes Original Soundtrack (2008)

Appearances in popular culture

  • The song is featured in the BBC television series Life on Mars (named after another famous David Bowie song) and is mentioned by DCI Gene Hunt, who periodically refers to himself as 'The Gene Genie'. In the episode "A Conflict of Interests" it is playing as they enter the club; in a later scene, while they escort Stephen Warren from his club, Sweet's "Block Buster!", with its comparable riff, is played. Hunt refers to himself as the Gene Genie more frequently in the sequel series, Ashes to Ashes (also named for yet another Bowie song) and his individual theme music on the latter programme is an instrumental version of The Jean Genie (retitled Gene Genie), created by series composer Edmund Butt.
  • The song appears in Anton Corbijn's 2007 Ian Curtis biopic Control. In the film a young Ian Curtis sings the chorus against a mirror as Aladdin Sane blasted from a record player.



  • Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5
  • Tremlett, George, David Bowie: Living on the Brink, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1996, ISBN 0-7867-0465-9

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