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The Man Who Sold the World

1971 Mercury LP (UK) and later CD reissues
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 4 November 1970 (US)
April 1971 (UK)
Recorded Trident and Advision Studios, London
18 April – 22 May 1970
Genre Rock
Length 40:37
Label Mercury , RCA (1972)
Producer Tony Visconti
Professional reviews
David Bowie chronology
Space Oddity
The Man Who Sold the World
Hunky Dory
Alternate covers
1970 Mercury LP (U.S.)
1971 German LP
1972 RCA LP

The Man Who Sold the World is the third studio 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 the singer's previous record Space Oddity as "the first Bowie album proper",[1] NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said of The Man Who Sold the World, "this is where the story really starts".[2]


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".[3] 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.[4] Despite his exasperation with the singer's preoccupation, Visconti would later rate The Man Who Sold the World his best work with Bowie until 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).[5]

Much of the album had a distinct heavy metal edge that stands it apart from Bowie's other releases, and has been compared to contemporaneous acts such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.[2] The record also provided some unusual musical detours, such as the title track's use of Latin rhythms to hold the melody.[5] The sonic heaviness of the album was matched by the subject matter, which included insanity ("All the Madmen"), gun-toting assassins and Vietnam War commentary ("Running Gun Blues"), an omniscient computer ("Saviour Machine"), and Lovecraftian Elder Gods ("The Supermen").[2] The song ("She shook Me Cold") was an explanation of a heterosexual encounter. The album has also been seen as reflecting the influence of such figures as Aleister Crowley, Franz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche.[5]

Cover art

The original 1970 US release of The Man Who Sold the World employed a cartoon-like cover drawing by Bowie's friend Michael J. Weller, featuring a cowboy in front of the Cane Hill mental asylum.[6] The first UK cover, on which Bowie is seen reclining in what he called a "man's dress",[4] was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The dress was designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish and Bowie also used it in February 1971 on his first promotional tour to the United States, where he wore it during interviews despite the fact the Americans had no knowledge of the yet-to-be-released UK cover.[7] 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 worldwide reissue by RCA Records used a black-and-white picture of Ziggy Stardust on the sleeve which remained until 1990 when the Rykodisc reissue reinstated the original UK "dress" cover. It 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 both the U.S. single release of "Space Oddity" in 1972 and the U.K. release of "Life on Mars?" in 1973; 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.

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.[2] Rolling Stone called it "uniformly excellent", while Melody Maker and NME found it "surprisingly excellent" and "rather hysterical", respectively.[4] 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 and the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Nine Inch Nails.[5]

Track listing

All songs written by David Bowie.


Side one

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

Side two

  1. "Running Gun Blues" – 3:11
  2. "Saviour Machine" – 4:25
  3. "She Shook Me Cold" – 4:13
  4. "The Man Who Sold the World" – 3:55
  5. "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 30 January 1990 with an extended track listing including a 1971 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)

  1. "Lightning Frightening" (Previously unreleased) – 3:38
  2. "Holy Holy" (1971 rerecording of A-side from 1970 non-LP single) – 2:20
  3. "Moonage Daydream" (1971 Arnold Corns version) – 3:52
  4. "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.




Year Chart Position
1972 UK Albums Chart 26
1973 Billboard 200 105


  1. ^ David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.78
  2. ^ a b c d Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.37-38
  3. ^ Martin Aston (2007). "Scary Monster", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: p.24
  4. ^ a b c Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.260-265
  5. ^ a b c d David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: pp.99-105
  6. ^ Cane Hill Project
  7. ^ Poulsen, Jan (2007) [2006] (in Danish). David Bowie - Station til station (2nd ed.). Gyldendal. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-87-02-06313-4. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 


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