Bowie’s bisexuality takes center stage on this shockingly good single.
Kronomyth 5.5: You’re everyone who ever cared.
Growing up as I did before the age of the Internet, I was left to fend for myself in the absence of printed lyrics, which birthed a mountain of mondegreens. Being a big David Bowie fan as a kid, his songs suffered the most. So, you have your versions of John, I’m Only Dancing and Hang on to Yourself, and I have mine.
Recorded during the sessions for Ziggy Stardust, “John, I’m Only Dancing” is a strange mixture of sexual energy and androgyny that seemed to define Bowie at the time. It would have been a brilliant addition to the album (in place of, say, “It Don’t Come Easy,” which always seemed out of place), but Bowie clearly had a special place in his heart for the song, as evidenced by his return to it in 1973 (this time with saxophones) and again in 1974 (now re-imagined as a funky soul song).
The B side is the same as the album track. I always loved the line “it really comes out better on a stolen guitar,” only to find later that it’s actually “the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.” I don’t know what that means, so I’m sticking with my version. Also, I always thought Bowie was singing “hold on, dear” and not “oh, lordy” on “John, I’m Only Dancing.” And the line “life’s a well-thumbed machine” I heard as “come into the light machine.” I bet if I cut and pasted all my Bowie misunderstandings I’d get a pretty cool poem out of it.
Original 7-inch single version
A1. John, I’m Only Dancing (David Bowie) (2:43)
B1. Hang on to Yourself (David Bowie) (2:35)
David Bowie (vocals, acoustic guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass guitar), Mick Ronson (electric guitar), Mick Woodmansey (drums). Produced by David Bowie (A1), David Bowie and Ken Scott (B1).
Released on 7-inch single on September 1, 1972 in the UK (RCA Victor, RCA 2263), France (RCA Victor, 41.042) and Germany (RCA Victor, 74-16 216) with regional picture sleeve. Reached #12 on the UK charts.
- Re-released on 7-inch single in 1973 in the UK (RCA, 2263) featuring remixed A version.