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Man Who Sold the World

4.5 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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With 1970's The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie set aside his pop and singer-songwriter aspirations and headed in a harder-rocking direction. Producer Tony Visconti provided a thick, dense setting with guitarist Mick Ronson playing the role of guitar hero to Bowie's megalomaniac frontman; think Keith Richards and Mick Jagger sprinkled with fairy dust. The new approach flowered on Hunky Dory, but the outline for the master plan is here. The title track, "The Width of a Circle," and "All the Madmen" are essential Bowie, as he slips from cryptic to straightforward, celebratory wordplay. --Rob O'Connor
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 28, 1999)
  • Original Release Date: 1970
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Parlophone
  • ASIN: B00001OH7N
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,823 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
In November 1970, David Bowie released his 3rd studio album and the promise that showed on the previous year's release was brought to fullfillment on 'The Man Who Sold the World'. Tales of madness, the occult, science fiction, maniac Vietnam vets and a race of superhumans fill this bizarre masterpiece of sonic indulgence. Some have commented on this record being David's heavy metal piece and in some parts the guitars are very heavy for 1970 (excepting of course Zep, Purple and the Sabs), but in many ways it is typical early Bowie record, especially lyrically. The Spiders from Mars make their debut here (with producer Tony Visconti handling the bass chores). Mick Ronson was the actual session leader on these recordings as newlywed Bowie was "preoccupied". Maybe that was the reason for the overabundance of heavy rock but much of Bowie's later work would be heavy as well. Favorites include the epic "Width of a Circle", an alltime favorite of mine which incorporates many of Bowie's early influences including legendary occultist Aleister Crowley. "All the Madmen" which explores the nature of insanity and touches on David's own troubled psyche while sympathizing with the plight of his half brother Terry. "Savoir Machine" and "Circle" explore the nature of false leadership and gods ("You can't stake your lives..."). "Running Gun Blues" explores the psychosis of war and its impact on soldiers who can't shut it down while back home. Both "After All" and "The Supermen" explore the ideas of Nietzsche and possibly Lovecraft describing a race aliens who resemble humans but are superior. Many of these will continue in future albums, especially 'Ziggy'. The most famous song on an album of non-hits is undoubtably the title track and it is a brilliant piece of work which stands up to the best of Bowie.Read more ›
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Format: Audio CD
From the cover, which shows a longhaired Bowie in a full-length dress, reclining on a chaise longue, it is clear that this is no ordinary record. "The Man Who Sold The World" is often cited as being Bowie's "heavy metal" album. It definitely marks a significant departure from the folk influenced sound of his previous album, and without question stands as his first great piece of work. Overall the sound is raw and rather under-produced. Mick Ronson's dazzling guitar work, combined with the eerie sound of a moog synthesiser, and Bowie's pronounced Cockney accent creates an atmosphere that is distinctly, and suitably macabre.
The album begins with "Width Of A Circle", a grotesque and disturbing psycho-neurotic fantasy. This eight-minute opener, with its religious and sexual imagery is as phantasmagoric as the works of Hieronymus Bosch or William Blake. Bowie's half brother Terry suffered mental illness and spent most of his life in psychiatric institutions. In "All The Madmen" Bowie provides a rather wry and sinister commentary on mental illness, a theme he would often return to in his career. "After All" with its quasi-music hall "Oh by jingo" refrain was intended to address a generation jaded hippies. 'I've borrowed your time and I'm sorry I called' sings Bowie. "Saviour Machine", a dark, prophetic tale of society's over-dependence on technology, tells of a machine that is bored with the utopia it has helped to create. In a Dostoyevskian act of disassociation, the narrator of "The Man Who Sold The World" meets his doppelganger on the stairs, where he announces "Oh no, not me/I never lost control".
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Format: Audio CD
I've heard this album was Bowie's attempt at heavy metal. I'm not sure I agree, but the album is definitely one of his heaviest efforts. This is Bowie's second studio album, & it is strikingly different from his folk-oriented "Space Oddity". Bowie excellently employs legendary glam-rock guitarist Mick Ronson for a blusier, heavier, more distrotion-driven guitar sound.
"The Man Who Sold the World" (TMWSTW) couldn't have opened with a better piece than "The Width of a Circle". It's a long, segmented song with a variety of tempo changes and it also moves the listener through a plethora of moods. "All the Madmen" is a song about, well, madmen. The eerie wooden whistles add a nice touch of lunacy to the song. "Running Gun Blues" is an all-out rocker about a war vet who comes home & embarks on a shooting spree not unlike the DC sniper incident. "She Shook Me Cold" is a dark, bluesy ditty with obvious lyrics describing a sexual encounter. My favorite song on the album is the conclusion, "The Supermen". It's a lofty, echoing piece about an apparent race of superhumans that existed before time...It reminds me of short stories from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The timpani and octave-leaping moans in the background give the song a weird, other-worldly feel.
The album cover for TMWSTW is characteristically Bowie, with him sporting a tight fitting, Victorian-era silk dress. He is holding playing cards while reclining on a sofa. It's a feminine image giving off a sense of subtle danger.
A drawback to TMWSTW is the sometimes muddy production of the album, thanks to Tony Visconti (maybe he's a bass player first, then a producer...). There are also a few songs like "After All" & "Saviour Machine" that I consider rather weak & forgettable.
Overall, if you want a change from Bowie's (*powder-puff*) 80's & 90's material, this is an album to invest in.
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