David Bowie: “The Man Who Sold The World” (1970)
Bowie’s slow march towards megastardom continues with this 1970 outing that probably most famous for its title song being covered by Nirvana for their “MTV Unplugged” appearance.
Aside: Bowie apparently loved Nirvana’s version, but Wikipedia notes that: “Bowie bemoaned the fact that when he performed the number himself he would encounter ‘kids that come up afterwards and say, ‘It’s cool you’re doing a Nirvana song.’ And I think, ‘Fuck you, you little tosser!” 🙂
(Bonus track! Lulu’s Bowie-produced version from 1974. #3 on the UK charts! Lulu – The Man Who Sold The World (1974))
So, on this album we have most of the band that would become the Spiders From Mars once Bowie transforms into Ziggy Stardust, save for producer Tony Visconti who is still serving duty on bass. The sound is mostly straight-up-btih-a-Bowie-twist hard rock in an early Zeppelin and “Truth”-era Jeff Beck vein, though with lingering twinges of psychedelia. Wikipedia also tells us that Visconti asserts that the band did most of the songwriting, with Bowie mostly coming in at the end to add vocals, though Bowie denies this. I have to think that there is some truth to this, as many of the tracks feel somewhat derivative of its hard rock contemporaries. Wikipedia also notes that the riff for one song (“The Supermen”) was given to Bowie by Jimmy page during his session-man days.
Regardless, this is pretty enjoyable acid rock. The lead-off track is “The Width of a Circle”, an epic eight-minute riff-rock extravaganza. I loved this song when I first heard it on the “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture” soundtrack, but back then I had no clue from whence the song had come. Even back in the early ’80s, Bowie’s catalog was intensely confusing to me.
Again, I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to Bowie’s “apprenticeship” coming to fruition with Ziggy, yet we’re just not quite there yet. As I said above, I’m still hearing too much of what Bowie’s contemporaries were releasing at the time, and still just a glimpse of the artist Bowie is about to become.
I also want to point out that the original UK cover of this album — Bowie in full androgynous bloom, reclining on a chaise lounge and wearing a designer dress — is fucking awesome, and I think it’s very lame that later US pressings of this album eschewed that cover for a plain black-and-white photo of Bowie-as-Ziggy. Thankfully, the dress cover was restored when the album was reissued in the ’90s.