Few can match the sheer and vibrant originality of the Starman, David Bowie. The singer was not only chameleonic in his style, constantly changing persona and costume at the drop of a pun-filled hat, but he employed the same desperate need for artistic evolution in his songwriting too. From Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust to Low, the changes of output over just a few short years shows Bowie’s desire always to be moving forward.
It meant that the singer always possessed a certain resentment for the past and a refusal to be portrayed in a similar vein to his contemporaries. Bowie, above all else, strived to be one of a kind. But, there are certainly moments of inspiration that flashed across the mind of the mercurial performer, from which he developed unique motifs or even entire songs. While his adoption of Wiliam S Burroughs’ ‘cut-up technique’ for writing his idiosyncratic lyrics is well known, Mick Jagger once posited that the ‘Changes’ singer was inspired to write a classic by The Rolling Stones.
Bowie’s connection to Jagger is well-documented. The two singers found kindred spirits in one another and enjoyed a fragrant relationship, one that many assumed filtered out of friendship and into romance. Professionally they were aligned too, not only did Bowie cover the Stones track ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together‘, but he also joined Jagger for the iconic, if ill-fated, cover of Martha and the Vandellas anthem ‘Dancing in the Street’ — quite possibly the only music video that should be forever cherished as a pure artefact of the eighties.
Jagger reflected on their relationship following Bowie’s sad passing in 2016. Speaking with Rolling Stone the leading man noted his friendship and how he believed The Rolling Stones inspired one song: “I can’t remember how I met David — which is weird — but we used to hang out in London a lot in the early days of the Seventies; we were at a lot of parties together,” Jagger recalled.
“He would come around my house and play me all his music — I remember him playing me different mixes of ‘Jean Genie,’ which was really kind of Stones-y, in a way. That’s what I enjoyed: watching him develop as an artist.” Bowie would continue to develop throughout his career, arguably releasing one of his greatest efforts, the heart-wrenching Blackstar days before his death.
In truth, ‘The Jean Genie’ was inspired by a whole host of icons. Not only was it allegedly an ode to Iggy Pop, the perenially topless singer for The Stooges and one of Bowie’s closest allies, but it was also a reflection of the esteemed pop culture figure Jean Genet, of which Bowie was an unwavering fan. Musically though, Bowie would admit some inspiration from the Stones: “I wanted to get the same sound as the Stones had on their first album on the harmonica. I didn’t get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted – that ‘60s thing.” The Starman also admitted that the track to melody cues from Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m A Man’.
Like any great artist, Bowie’s true happy place was in the presence of his own originality. But, like any legend, he also recognised that the best songs must be built from the world around us, of which music, art, and even Mick Jagger is most surely apart.