David Bowie: “John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)

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)

The Players

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).

The Plastic

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.

  1. Re-released on 7-inch single in 1973 in the UK (RCA, 2263) featuring remixed A version.

2 thoughts on “David Bowie: “John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)

  1. Uh, no. “It Don’t Come Easy” was Ringo Starr. You’re thinking of “It Ain’t Easy”, though tell you the truth, I like Long John Baldry’s version better anyway.

  2. Yikes, boogaloo on the brain. Thanks for catching that, Miles. And here I’ve been listening to Dave Edmunds’ version for the last few weeks…

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