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"John, I'm Only Dancing" 19 August 1972  

Radio/TV/Film/Video Index

Recorded: 19 August 1972
Director: Mick Rock


Video credit: David Bowie

Mick Rock filmed and directed David Bowie's first promotional video JOHN, I'M ONLY DANCING (2:49 minutes) at the afternoon rehearsal for the Rainbow Theatre concert on 19 August 1972.  Some concert footage was also added. The video shows Bowie and the Spiders performing on the stage of the Rainbow Theatre.  Bowie wears a black leather jacket and sports an anchor tattoo on one cheek. Bowie stated that the idea for the tattoo came from Bewitched tv series where the lead character Samantha occassionally wore tiny tattoos on her face.

The scenes alternate between shots of the band and of Bowie to shots of the fish-net clad Astronettes dancing off-screen and behind back-lit silhouette screens. Reportedly Lester Bangs has called this "the very moment the modern idea of a video was born."

Mick Rock has said that this video was a last minute decision on Bowie's part and that he had only a $200 budget for the film.  Rock managed to find a cameraman at short notice and states that due to the low budget - Bowie and The Spiders were filmed simply miming to the song (played on the Rainbow theatre's record player) which caused Rock some lip-synch problems later on.  Editing took Rock eight or nine hours in just one night with the editor reported by Rock as having an epileptic fit in the morning after such a long session.

The promotional film was played on prime network TV in several large US cities during Bowie 1st US Tour.  However, when the song was played on BBC's Top of the Pops it was instead accompanied by a film of butch bikers at a London gas works and a dancing girl on a hill. This may have been because Top of The Pops at first refused to show it (telling Tony DeFries that it wasn't to their taste), but presumably also because of the radical (at the time) "gender-bending" dimension.

"David apologizes to his appreciators that the BBC refused to show the "John, I'm Only Dancing" film on Top of The Pops recently.   David's new single "JEAN GENIE" was released 24th November.  It would be nice if you could write to the BBC requesting them to show the film which David has had made for showing on Top of The Pops." - Fan Club newsletter (December 1972)

The "Gay bikers and Dancing Girl" segment was broadcast again in 1991 on BBC2 during a 'Gay Rock n Roll Years' documentary (Also included were "Starman" clips, with some gay men saying how it made them realise their sexuality). The on screen text pointed out the irony that the BBC deemed the original too overtly gay to show, replacing it with the even 'gayer' bikers.

The Mick Rock shot promo was eventually shown on Top of The Pops to promote the 1979 John, I'm Only Asking (Again) reissue single.  Recently surfacing amongst Bowie collectors is a 16mm film by Mick Rock (which was transferred to video by Mainman in 1995) which contains additional "John, I'm Only Dancing" out-takes.

---This page last modified: 05 Jan 2019---

 Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)