The Man Who Sold the World (album)

Infobox Album
Name = The Man Who Sold the World
Type = Studio album
Artist = David Bowie

Released = November 4 1970 (US)
April 1971 (UK)
Recorded = Trident and Advision Studios, London
18 April22 May 1970
Genre = Rock
Length = 40:37
Label = Mercury
Producer = Tony Visconti
Reviews = *Allmusic Rating|4.5|5 [ link]
Last album = "Space Oddity" (1969)
This album = "The Man Who Sold the World" (1970)
Next album = "Hunky Dory" (1971)

"The Man Who Sold the World" is an album by David Bowie. It was originally released on Mercury Records in November 1970 in the United States and in April 1971 in the UK. The album was Bowie's first with the nucleus of what would become the 'Spiders from Mars', the backing band made famous by "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" in 1972. Though author David Buckley has described his previous record "Space Oddity" as "the first Bowie album proper", [David Buckley (1999). "Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story": p.78] "NME" critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said of "The Man Who Sold the World", "this is where the story "really" starts".Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). "Bowie: An Illustrated Record": pp.37-38]

Production and style

The album was written and rehearsed at Bowie's home in Haddon Hall, Beckenham, an Edwardian mansion converted to a block of flats that was described by one visitor as having an ambience "like Dracula's living room". [Martin Aston (2007). "Scary Monster", "MOJO 60 Years of Bowie": p.24] As Bowie was preoccupied with his new wife Angie at the time, the music was largely arranged by guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist/producer Tony Visconti.Nicholas Pegg (2000). "The Complete David Bowie": pp.260-265] Regarding the songs' composition, however, Bowie maintains that "I really did object to the impression given in some articles that I did not write the songs on "Man Who Sold" ... you only have to check out the chord changes. NO ONE writes chord changes like that." [David Bowie (17 December 1998). [ Bowienet Live Chat] ] Despite his exasperation with the singer's working methods, Visconti would later rate "The Man Who Sold the World" his best work with Bowie until 1980's "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)".David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: pp.99-105]

Much of the album had a distinct heavy metal edge that stands it apart from Bowie's other releases, and has been compared to contemporary acts such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The record also provided some unusual musical detours, such as the title track's use of Latin sounds to hold the melody. The sonic heaviness of the album was matched by the subject matter, which included insanity ("All the Madmen"), children with powers beyond their parents' understanding ("After All"), gun-toting assassins and Vietnam War commentary ("Running Gun Blues"), omniscient computers ("Saviour Machine") and Lovecraftian Elder Gods ("The Supermen"). The album has also been seen as reflecting the influence of such figures as Aleister Crowley, Franz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche.


The UK cover of the first release of "The Man Who Sold the World", on which Bowie is seen reclining in what he called a "man's dress", was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The original US issue employed a cartoon-like cover drawn by Bowie's friend Michael J. Weller, featuring the Cane Hill mental asylum, [ [ Cane Hill Project] ] while the 1971 German release presented a winged hybrid creature with Bowie's head and a hand for a body, preparing to flick the Earth away. The 1972 reissue by RCA used a black-and-white picture of Ziggy Stardust on the sleeve. The 1990 Rykodisc reissue reinstated the original UK "dress" cover, which also appeared on the 1999 EMI remaster.


None of the songs were released to the public as singles at the time, though a promo version of "All the Madmen" was issued in the U.S. in 1971. The same song appeared in Eastern Europe in 1973, as did "The Width of a Circle". "Black Country Rock" was released as the B-side of "Holy Holy" in the UK in January 1971, shortly before the album. The title track appeared as the B-side of the U.S. single release of "Space Oddity" in 1972; it also provided an unlikely hit for Scottish pop singer Lulu (produced by Bowie and Ronson) and would be covered by many bands over the years, including Nirvana. It also featured on the reality show "", performed by Jordis Unga.

Release and aftermath

"The Man Who Sold the World" was generally more successful commercially and critically in the US than in the UK on its original release in 1970-71. "Rolling Stone" called it "uniformly excellent", while "Melody Maker" and "NME" found it "surprisingly excellent" and "rather hysterical", respectively. Sales were not high enough to dent the charts in either country at the time, however it made #26 in the UK and #105 in the US following its rerelease on 25 November 1972, in the wake of Bowie's commercial breakthrough "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". The album has been cited as influencing the goth rock, darkwave and science fiction elements of work by artists such as Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Nine Inch Nails.

Track listing

All songs written by David Bowie.

ide one

# "The Width of a Circle" – 8:05
# "All the Madmen" – 5:38
# "Black Country Rock" – 3:32
# "After All" – 3:51

ide two

# "Running Gun Blues" – 3:11
# "Saviour Machine" – 4:25
# "She Shook Me Cold" – 4:13
# "The Man Who Sold the World" – 3:55
# "The Supermen" – 3:38

CD releases

"The Man Who Sold the World" was first released on CD by RCA in 1984. The German (RCA PD84654, for the European Market) and Japanese (RCA PCD1-4816, for the U.S. market) masters were sourced from different tapes and are not identical for each region.

The album was reissued by Rykodisc (RCD 10132) / EMI (CDP 79 1837 2) on January 30, 1990 with an extended track listing including a 1972 rerecording of "Holy Holy", incorrectly described in the liner notes as the original 1970 single version. Bowie vetoed inclusion of the earlier recording, which is available only on the bootleg album "Changesthreeandahalf". Rykodisc later released this album in the AU20 series (RCD 80132) with 20-bit digitally remastered sound.

Bonus tracks (1990 Rykodisc)

# "Lightning Frightening" (Previously unreleased) – 3:38
# "Holy Holy" (1972 rerecording of A-side from 1970 non-LP single) – 2:20
# "Moonage Daydream" (1971 Arnold Corns version) – 3:52
# "Hang on to Yourself" (1971 Arnold Corns version) – 2:51

In 1999, the album was reissued again by Virgin/EMI (7243 521901 0 2), without the bonus tracks but with 24-bit digitally remastered sound. The Japanese mini LP (EMI TOCP-70142) replicates the cover and texture of the original Mercury LP.


*David Bowie – vocals, guitar, Stylophone
*Mick Ronson – guitar, vocals
*Tony Viscontibass, piano, guitar, producer
*Mick Woodmanseydrums, percussion
*Ralph Mace – Moog synthesizer
*Ken Scottengineer

Album cover variations



See also

* "The Man Who Sold the Moon", a 1949 science fiction short story and collection by Robert A. Heinlein, with similar themes to the song.


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