David Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing”

“I’m gay and always have been.”
– David Bowie, January 1972, in Melody Maker

In June of 1972, the same month he released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, named the “Greatest, Gayest Album of All-Time” by Out magazine, David Bowie recorded “John, I’m Only Dancing.” In the song Bowie, as the narrator, tell his boyfriend John not to get jealous just because Bowie is with a girl, for all they are doing is dancing, though he does say that she turns him on.

Released as a single in the UK, “John, I’m Only Dancing” became Bowie’s third hit, following “Space Oddity” and “Starman.” His US label, RCA, declined to release the song until 1976 when they included it on the compilation Changesonebowie. (RCA also issued Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World album in the US in 1972 with a photo of Bowie on-stage in slacks kicking a leg up as opposed to using the image that graced the UK version of the album, a long-haired Bowie reclining in a dress.)

By 1982 it was well-known that Bowie was not gay. Rolling Stone made that clear with their cover story entitled “David Bowie Straight.” Did he exploit gay sexuality to achieve fame? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Tom Robinson (“Glad to Be Gay”) doesn’t think so. “For gay musicians, Bowie was seismic. To hell with whether he disowned us later.”

Nicholas Pegg, star of Doctor Who and David Bowie expert, suggested that “John, I’m Only Dancing” may not be a gay song after all. Perhaps the narrator was telling John, the boyfriend of the girl with whom the narrator is dancing, that he needn’t worry about his intentions.

In January 1973 Bowie re-recorded “John, I’m Only Dancing” for his Aladdin Sane album, though it did not make that release. This version, referred to as the “sax version,” was issued in the UK as a single in April of that year utilizing the same catalogue number as the earlier single. In the US, the first 1000 copies of Changesonebowie pressed included the sax version.

In 1974 Bowie recorded “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).” This version retains the chorus of “John, I’m Only Dancing” but the verses use new lyrics and a different melody in which the narrator expresses his joy of dancing.

Today is David Bowie’s 68th birthday. Here are nineteen songs he wrote or co-wrote, plus “Walk on the Wild Side,” which he co-produced. He may not be gay, but as you will hear, a lot of his music is.

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