Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jean Genie - David Bowie on Top of the Pops, 3rd January 1973

The BBC, bless it, managed to lose the tapes of this particularly iconic performance. On the other hand, its relatively lax attitude to editors and cameramen taking home tapes have saved more than one precious show and this is a case in point. Fish-eye lens cameraman John Henshall took a tape home with him, and it surfaced recently. It was played last night, December 21st 2011, on BBC2's TOTP Christmas Show.

The BBC (bless its cotton socks, once again) showed it with the intro and ending missing and purple bubbles over the video explaining how lucky we were to be able to see this performance. Somehow ZiggyStardust TV managed to get hold of an unadulterated tape, and here it is.



I remember seeing this as a kid, one of the most exciting performances to date on the then still bland and nannyish British TV of the time. This was quite late on in Glam Rock, so a lot of glitter had passed under the bridge and the stakes were raised. Bowie's trick here was to bring on the least limp-wristed glam rock-out ever...even though, by the accidents of fate, The Sweet brought out an almost identical sounding Tobacco Road-influenced song at the same time - Blockbuster. But the aptly-named Sweet never could manage to muster quite the menace of Jean Genie, despite their reputation for playing heavy rock when the teenyboppers weren't looking.

Looking at Bowie again with a few more years experience, it's obvious that the man's a star and it seems quite likely he knew he was a star since first glancing in the mirror as a young boy. The comparison at the time was with Marc Bolan, who had a similar initial trajectory, but never broke through the cocaine-and-red-wine barrier to create new material when the teenage girls went on to something new.  I'd say Bowie's closest analog was Lady Gaga, who has leveraged sheer ambition into superstardom, but I'm not convinced that she has a clue how to write a pop song. David Bowie had more songwriting talent in his Ziggy Stardust haircut than most pop musicians have in their entire bodies during their entire career. Even though Jean Genie was based on an old riff, the lyrics pop and sparkle. The intro and outro are among the most exciting in popular music, and the band, miming away on their Marshall stacks, are not miming to the single track, but to a re-recording. And Bowie, while not exactly Sonny Terry, blasts a solo on the harmonica that leads wonderfully into Love Me Do for a couple of bars. (I wonder if the Beeb paid Macca for it?)

Also, you have to love Trevor Bolder's sideburns.




Blockbuster - The Sweet


Tobacco Road - The Nashville Teens

If you want to see the TOTP2 version, it's on YouTube as well, of course, until SOPA is passed and YouTube goes away.

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