I was excited in December by the news that a copy of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars performing ‘Jean Genie’ live on British chart music TV show Top of the Pops had been found. ‘Jean Genie’ had been released as a single and featured on Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane. It was thought that this clip – first broadcast on January 4 1973 – had been erased by the BBC many years ago. Many classic TV programmes met the same fate. It turned out that cameraman John Henshall had asked for a copy and kept it.
What was special about this performance was that it was genuinely live. Almost all Top of the Pops performances during its long history were either completely mimed to the original backing track, or part-mimed (i.e. lead vocal was live) to a backing track re-recorded by BBC TV musicians and the band. It has always irritated me the way the BBC have constantly devalued the meaning of the word ‘performance’ when describing old TOTP clips by applying it to entirely mimed or mostly mimed appearances – which of course were cheaper and safer for both the TV people and the singers / bands – but are not music-making.
Rikky Rooksby is a guitar teacher, songwriter/composer, and writer on popular music. Considered the premiere author of songwriting guides, Rooksby has also written numerous music history and guitar instruction books and has published over 200 interviews, reviews, articles, and transcriptions in music magazines. He has also transcribed and arranged more than 40 chord songbooks, including music by Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, and many other artists.
A member of the Guild of International Songwriters and Composers, Rooksby is also a sought-after teacher who leads courses on music at The Oxford Experience and other international continuing education summer schools.