Wednesday, November 4, 1970

David Bowie The Man Who Sold the World charted

The Man Who Sold the World

David Bowie

Charted: November 4, 1970

Peak: 105 US, 24 UK, 62 CN, 44 AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.1 UK, 2.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: glam rock/folk rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. The Width of a Circle [8:05]
  2. All the Madmen [5:38]
  3. Black Country Rock [3:34] (1/15/71 B-side of “Holy Holy,” 43 CL, 33 CO)
  4. After All [3:53]
  5. Running Gun Blues [3:12]
  6. Saviour Machine [4:26]
  7. She Shook Me Cold [4:13]
  8. The Man Who Sold the World [3:57] (6/22/73, 25 CL, 14 CO, 39 UK)
  9. The Supermen [3:39]

All songs written by David Bowie.

Total Running Time: 40:29

The Players:

  • David Bowie (vocals, guitar, saxophone, stylophone, organ)
  • Mick Ronson (guitar, backing vocals)
  • Tony Visconti (bass, piano, guitar, recorder, backing vocals, producer)
  • Mick Woodmansey (drums)
  • Ralph Mace (Moog synthesizer)
  • Ken Scott (engineer)


3.715 out of 5.00 (average of 25 ratings)

About the Album:

The Man Who Sold the World, for most intents and purposes, is the beginning of David Bowie's classic period.” AMG It marked his move away from the folkier sound of his previous album and toward “a tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen.” AMG In addition, “the lyrics are darker than his previous releases, exploring themes of insanity, religion, technology and war.” WK

Bowie decided to form a band. He enlisted Tony Visconti, who’d produced the Space Oddity album as his bassist, and John Cambridge as the drummer. As the new guitarist, he brought on Mick Ronson. The two met after a performance at London’s Marquee Club on February 2, 1970 and the two hit it off immediately.

After Cambridge was replaced by Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, the quartet began recording The Man Who Sold the World in April 1970. While Bowie received sole songwriting credit, biographer Peter Doggett quoted Visconti saying “the songs were written by all four of us.” WK The arranging was predominantly done by Ronson and Visconti.

“The mix is off-center, with the fuzz-bass dominating the compressed, razor-thin guitars and Bowie’s strangled, affected voice. The sound of The Man Who Sold the World is odd, but the music is bizarre itself, with Bowie’s bizarre, paranoid futuristic tales melded to Ronson’s riffing and the band's relentless attack. Musically, there isn't much innovation on The Man Who Sold the World — it is almost all hard blues-rock or psychedelic folk-rock — but there's an unsettling edge to the band’s performance, which makes the record one of Bowie's best albums.” AMG

Width of a Circle “is an eight-minute epic that delves into progressive rock.” WK Guitar feedback from Ronson is prominent and lyrics reference Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran and a sexual encounter in the devil’s lair with God. WK All the Madmen reflects on the theme of institutionalized madness. It was inspired by Bowie’s half-brother Terry Burns. WK

On Black Country Rock, Bowie impersonates Marc Bolan with his vocal performance while the music is a mix of blues rock and hard rock. Meanwhile, After All has some resemblance to the folk rock and music hall numbers of Bowie’s earlier work. The lyrics deal with innocent children who have not been corrupted yet by adulthood. WK

Running Gun Blues deals with the Vietnam War and gun-toting assassins. That song and Saviour Machine are once again rooted in blues rock and hard rock. The latter explores the idea that computers could overtake the human race.

There is a suggestion that She Shook Me, created largely without Bowie’s input, was written to emulate Cream’s Jack Bruce and bears some similarity to Led Zeppelin. Lyriccally, it explores a sexual conquest similar to Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and Muddy Waters’ “You Shook Me.” WK

The “haunting” WK title track has cryptic and evocative lyrics wrapped around a “circular” guitar riff from Ronson. WK The Supermen reflects the themes of Nietzsche. Bowie described it as a “pre-fascist” “period piece.” WK

The album was originally to be called Metrobolist but the record company retitled it without Bowie’s consultation. Mercury executives reportedly disliked the album and there were no singles released at the time to promote it. However, “Black Country Rock” and the title cut would eventually surface as B-sides to future singles.

Notes: The 1990 Rykodisc reissue added bonus tracks “Lightning Frightening,” 1970 single “Holy Holy,” and the songs “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang on to Yourself.” The latter two were originally released as a 1971 single under the Bowie alias of Arnold Corns. The songs later resurfaced on the 1972 Ziggy Stardust album.

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First posted 2/20/2008; last updated 7/29/2021.

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