The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie

Another from the job lot and the best known track from it, the title track, I know best from the Nirvana MTV Unplugged performance. I did know it was a cover of a Bowie song though, unlike some folk who later thought Bowie was covering Nirvana.

I have a re-release so it’s a different cover, this one:


Which makes it look more like a live album, rather than the original cover, which was this one:


I’ve no idea why the record company decided to change it. Anyway, there were a number of things about the album that went on to shape Bowie’s future work, not least the addition of Mick Ronson on guitar but also the musical direction he chose to pursue, moving away from the psychedelic folk of his previous release, and a change in his vocal performance style.

It is a rock album, no doubt about it, and it is somewhat odd at times, almost prog, and though the title track is not that representative of the album as a whole, it is probably the stand out track with really interesting lyrics, particularly the opening lines:

We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend
Which came as a surprise
I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone
A long long time ago

The above is from a much later performance of course but I liked it so that’s why it is there.

Another important person who was to play a major part in Bowies career was Tony Visconti, who, on this album is listed as  – bass guitar; piano; guitar; recorder; producer; backing vocals. That’s really rather a lot but I can’t tell how heavily he did or didn’t influence the final outcome to be honest, but the album has been compared to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath at various points due to its heaviness and its themes, such as insanity with All the Madmen, gun-toting assassins and Vietnam War in Running Gun Blues, an omniscient computer  in Saviour Machine (though the timelines may not fit it feels like it could have come from Godspell at times to me, in style if not subject matter). The Supermen seems to be about some sort of Lovecraftian Elder Gods and, The Width of a Circle is, possibly, a sexual encounter with God, the Devil or both somewhere in the depths of Hell. These align quite well with the idea that the album is heavy metal/rock at its heart, but in this instance with a poet writing the songs. 

Interestingly, when released the album peaked it number 24 in the charts (1972-73) and when re-released in 1990 it managed number 66. In 2016, after bowie passed away it was re-issued and reached its highest ever chart position of 21, death sells, that’s for sure. I can’t complain though I guess, I bought it after he died, although, in my defence, I was buying albums and singles while he was still around.

I’ve been listening to it a lot in the last week and I really do rather like it. It is almost as though he and the band aren’t trying too hard and that there is a sort of casual abandon about the whole thing. I like it, which is why I’m going to give it an 8.5 with marks dropped only because it does feel rather ‘of its time’ in places, but not throughout. It rocks for the most part.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “The Width of a Circle” 8:05
2. “All the Madmen” 5:38
3. “Black Country Rock” 3:32
4. “After All” 3:52
Total length: 21:07
Side two
No. Title Length
5. “Running Gun Blues” 3:11
6. “Saviour Machine” 4:25
7. “She Shook Me Cold” 4:13
8. “The Man Who Sold the World” 3:55
9. “The Supermen” 3:38
Total length: 19:22 40:29

Did you known that in 1974 Lulu released The Man Who Sold The World as a single with Bowie doing the backing vocals? Well she did:

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