Album: Lodger (1979)
Charted: 29

Songfacts®:

  • This song finds David Bowie in character as a club DJ filled with both bitterness and grandeur. In the first verse, we learn that he's living at home, has lost his day job, and is "incurably ill," but on weekends he controls the dance floor, spinning records at the disco hotspot. "I've got believers," he keeps telling himself, even though he's merely a conduit for the music.
  • True to form, the song is quite danceable, with a heavy bassline and New Wave synthesizers. Adrian Belew played the guitar solo.
  • Bowie shared songwriting credits on this track with Brian Eno and Carlos Alomar. Eno is credited for playing synthesizer on song; Alomar and Adrian Belew added guitar, Dennis Davis played drums, George Murray was on bass.
  • In the UK, this was the second single released from the Lodger album, following "Boys Keep Swinging." It wasn't released as a single in America but got some attention in that country two years later when MTV launched.

    Bowie was on the vanguard of the music video movement; for "DJ," director David Mallet shot a clip of Bowie coming unhinged in front of some turntables in a radio studio, along with footage of him walking the streets of London while he is mobbed by admirers. The song was dated when MTV went on the air in 1981, but Bowie was a big name and the video was of better quality than most of what they had to choose from, so it went in rotation. For many young Americans, it was their first exposure to Bowie.
  • On March 20, 1979, two days after Lodger was released, Bowie took a turn on BBC Radio One as a guest DJ, playing some of his favorite songs for two hours. Among his selections: "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson and "96 Tears" by ? & The Mysterians. He played two Lodger tracks, "Boys Keep Swinging" and "Yassassin," but didn't play "DJ."
  • This song took on new meaning in the '00s when DJs really did become star attractions, gaining cult-like followers. Always a visionary, perhaps Bowie envisioned a time when the likes of Avicii and Calvin Harris would fill festivals and set musical trends.

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