Almost exactly a year after the David Bowie (Space Oddity) album, David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World appeared in November of 1970. Whereas the year before, Bowie was on a more dreamy hippie trip, this new release had a distinctly harder edge with many tracks sounding like the advent of heavy metal. Tony Visconti was back to produce and this time had plenty of input from guitarist Mick Ronson.
First track, “The Width of a Circle” sets the tone early with a heavy Ronson guitar lick along with the dexterous drumming of Mick Woodmansey. Double tracked vocals on the vocals are effective on “All the Madmen” about Bowie’s half brother Terry who at that time had been hospitalized for mental illness. “After All” features a melancholy circus organ that sounds like a waltz for the dead.
No singles were released from the album and most fans under the age of 50 would know the title track better from Nirvana’s version that appeared on 1994’s MTV Unplugged in New York. The famous guitar riff leads into Bowie’s treated vocals and a moog synthesizer adds an ethereal quality to the whole affair. Using a Jimmy Page guitar line given years before, “The Superman” closes out the album.
This is certainly a departure from the previous year as much of The Man Who Sold the World sounds like a hard rock band that Bowie was fronting. Besides the Nirvana cover, the most famous item is the photo of Bowie posing in a dress that was eventually adopted as the final album cover. Still, there is a way forward here where glam gets introduced to the sound and Ziggy Stardust is eventually born.