David Bowie Tribute: The Man Who Sold the World

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David Bowie’s 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World was quite a shift from the relatively gentle folk-rock of Space Oddity.  It’s the first album appearance of guitarist & arranger Mick Ronson as Bowie’s main collaborator & co-architect of the glam-rock vibe that dominated the next few records.  Perhaps this radical shift is why there weren’t any official singles from the album, or why the record did better in the US than in the UK.  Its rough edges border on hard rock, a sound with which Bowie’s friendly competitor Marc Bolan would shortly hit big on the charts as T.Rex  (aided by Bowie’s friend, bassist & producer Tony Visconti).

With references to Nietzschean supermen, mechanical saviors, institutionalized madmen (a reference to Bowie’s own asylum-residing half-brother, Terry), and murderous gunmen, the album’s darker, vaguely occult themes suit Ronson’s sharp guitar tones & dexterous solos.  Some have suggested he & Visconti should have received more credit for the songs, with Bowie offering only basic musical cues and last-minute lyrics while preoccupied with his new marriage to Angela Bowie.  But the album is a clear model for the classic “Spiders from Mars” sound of the Ziggy Stardust & Aladdin Sane albums to come.

While not usually found at the top of most people’s lists of favorite records from Bowie’s canon, it still has had lasting impact, with songs like “After All” and “All the Madmen” influencing later “goth-rock” bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees and the Cure, as well as the title cut receiving two prominent cover versions: Scottish pop diva Lulu, who had a Top 10 single with it, produced & backed by Bowie & gang in 1974; and Nirvana’s fairly-straight take on the song for their MTV Unplugged session of 1993, which brought new attention to the original album.  The roots of Ziggy were born here, but before the Starman landed, a slight diversion…