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David Bowie cover of the week: Colin Barely performs “John, I’m Only Dancing”

This was an especially tough week to choose a cover of the week not only because there were many quality videos posted over the past seven days, but several of them included visual elements beyond a fixed camera capturing the performance. I selected Colin Barley’s cover of “John, I’m Only Dancing” because this video has both of these qualities and, the tiebreaker in my mind, is that the song itself is rarely covered.

“John, I’m Only Dancing” is one of Bowie’s most overtly bisexual songs. The narrator is with John but dancing with a “she” who turns (him? her?) on. This video supports the song’s narrative with a visual story, which, Bowie’s original video actually didn’t do. Bowie was clever- there’s a way to interpret the song very differently: the narrator is a heterosexual man reassuring his friend, John, that despite being turned on by his girlfriend, there’s no reason to worry because they’re only dancing. To that end, Barley’s video also does leave a little ambiguity. There’s a girl dancing, but she seems to be dancing by herself. She’s being watched by another person but missing from the video is John. Unless, that is, John is the man whose back is to the camera but is clearly standing in front of the watcher. The watcher might be thinking of an excuse ahead of joining the dancing girl. The appearance of skeletal hands beckoning to us suggests that someone is being tempted to do something that isn’t going to end well. Yes, gay, straight or bi, this song is really about temptation, which is universal!

Anyway, I like the visuals as well as the performance itself, so…cover of the week.

Colin Barley is originally from England but now living in Arizona, where he performs and also rescues feral cats. (Oddly enough, I recently interviewed Eugene Kibets, a Ukrainian concert promoter who also rescues cats— click HERE for more on that). Colin is part of a two-piece band called CrescenDue.

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So, there were not only several other really good covers posted this week, but there were more Bowie covers posted overall than I had time to watch. So there might be some other good ones out there that I missed. That said, below are a few that I thought were outstanding. The bolded song name links to the corresponding video:

Let’s Dance by Riqi Harawira. This is another one that is a terrific musical performance with good visual elements. I especially like the guitar work here.

Rebel Rebel by Chuck Campbell. Another really well crafted video. Is the flower-eating scene inspired by Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence?

Blackstar by Peter Spiker. The video element here is just a fixed camera on the performer, but the performance itself is so good I almost selected this one as cover of the week. Really well done.

Space Oddity by Sara Niemietz. I mention this because the oft-covered song is performed here with a fair amount of humor. Funny (but also well done).

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