Before it’s eventual last episode on July 30th 2006, Top of the Pops was the only place for Britain’s youth to take in the best music in the land, one that existed for over 40 years. As you can imagine, it means that the best and brightest of rock and roll has walked into the London studio to perform. That said, there may not be a better performance than this one from David Bowie as he sings ‘The Jean Genie’ live back in 1973.
Top of the Pops still holds a place in many people’s hearts. Largely for the stalwart sanctuary it provided on a Friday night but, mostly, because it was the place they met their icons for the first time. Although not always explicitly alternative, the show represented the best selling music of the time in one succinct half-hour episode largely compiled by mimed performances in the studio.
When the alien rock and roller form outer space, AKA Bowie’s own creation Ziggy Stardust came to town, he wanted to do things a little differently. Bowie, in his infinite wisdom and desire to strut, demanded that his performance of the brilliant track ‘The Jean Genie’ be live and untethered. This decision makes this show one of the best ever from Top of the Pops’ illustrious past.
The track itself is a powerhouse of splashing blues and rock influences against a starry-eyed backdrop of a misspent youth. According to Bowie, it was “a smorgasbord of imagined Americana”, with a protagonist inspired by Iggy Pop, and the title is an allusion to the acclaimed author Jean Genet. One of Bowie’s most famous tracks, it was the lead single for the album Aladdin Sane.
The footage was originally aired in February of 1973 but was “lost” following the airing of the show. There was a subsequent mad scramble to ensure that those who were first turned on to Bowie with this performance could have the chance to see it again. Luckily, in 2011, the BBC managed to track down the lost tape and put it out for us all to enjoy.
Watch below David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust sings ‘The Jean Genie’ live on Top of the Pops back in 1973.