David Bowie – The man who sold the world (1970)

Newly wed, oh Angie

The width of a circle can be very long indeed. David had some success with the folky dreamy Space oddity and sure enough right away he changed his style completely. David Bowie, the chameleon ever for ever. “The man who sold the world” is like a very early grunge album. It must have been David’s tentacles that picked up the trend of guitar-based rock à la Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. This could be his forte, but alas it was only to be for one lone album.

This is a rock album with a lot of guitars. It is much harder than David’s usual albums, not until the late eighties would he return to this kind of music. The band that soon would be the Spiders from Mars assembled. The Micks, guitarist Ronson and drummer Woodmansey, joined David. On this album producer Tony Visconti slapped the bass and a random keyboard player was added. Who was he, was he ever significant?

I seldom like the guitar sound from Mick Ronson. It is something I have to live with. As a guitarist in such a famous band he is iconic, sure, but the sound style is too thin and sharp to me. Some of the guitar riffs are very nice nevertheless. This is an album I have loved but the feelings have grown a little cooler by now. I may have listened to it too much back then in the early 90s. I think it may better suit folk who listen to the Stones and The Who.

I usually don’t focus that much on the lyrics when listening to David’s albums. It may have to do with the fact that I was too young with little to no knowledge of the English language when I started to listen to his music. Lyrically, the theme is about insanity, a subject David seemed to come back to often. Insanity and sci-fi were the things he was thinking about. It suits me perfectly.

The album cover of David in long hair, in a dress on the divan is a classic shot. I may be bold enough and say it must be in the top 10 of his album covers…

“The width of a circle” is one of the longest Bowie songs on a studio album. It’s a progressive rock track, flowing up and down, like the tide. Parts of it are quite nice, others not so much. The song was a staple in his early live shows.

Both “All the madmen” and “Black country rock” are good, highlights of the first side of the album.

The second side is better, is it not? Or maybe not. Usually there is a better side of his albums. “Running gun blues” has that young and high pitched voice of David’s. It’s crazy to my ears. “She shook me cold” is the weakest track on the album, it is almost hard to think David wrote it. Tony Visconti has said that the band developed some of the songs while David sat on the sofa with his new bride Angie.

“The man who sold the world” has always been a favourite. It became very famous when Nirvana did a cover of it on their “Unplugged” album. Even David began to play the song more after that. I think the boys in Nirvana did great with the song also. Good job, well done.

This is an album that I loved 30 years ago. Now, I may have played it too much. I find other albums in the collection more interesting. Still it is very cool as it stands out in the collection, and every time he revisited one of the songs from this album at shows it was usually very interesting. It is precious and should not be forgotten.

My rating: 6/10

Side A:

  1. The width of a circle
  2. All the madmen
  3. Black country rock
  4. After all

Side B:

  1. Running gun blues
  2. Saviour machine
  3. She shook me cold
  4. The man who sold the world
  5. The supermen

Best songs: “The man who sold the world” and “All the madmen”

Produced by: Tony Visconti

Media: Remastered 2015, 180 gram vinyl, reissued in 2015 as part of the Five Years (1969-1973) box.

Released: November 4, 1970

2 thoughts on “David Bowie – The man who sold the world (1970)

  1. I agree with most of your assessment of this album. I’d add ‘After All’ to the best songs on this album. Some of the songs appeared a bit strident to me, especially ‘The Supermen’. Nice write up!


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