David Bowie

The Man Who Sold the World

Composed by David Bowie

Song Review by

The title track to David Bowie's third album, in 1970, "The Man Who Sold the World" is one of the best-known songs in his repertoire, despite hailing from perhaps the least-known of all his albums. The original LP, famed today for its controversial cover illustration of Bowie wearing a dress, sold next to nothing upon release, and subsequent reissues have been unable to raise it to any noticeably greater heights. However, high-profile hit covers by Lulu, Midge Ure, and Nirvana have conspired to establish the song at the very forefront of Bowie's canon.

The song itself is based at least in part on Hugh Mearns' nursery rhyme "The Psychoed" ("as I was going up the stair, I met a man who was not there, he wasn't there again today, I wish that man would go away") -- it has also been linked to World War I poet Wilfred Owens' "Strange Meeting," although Bowie himself describes it as an attempt to put into words the feelings that, as a youth, he had yet to discover his full range of personality.

The song has appeared several times on Bowie's own singles, as the B-side to 1973's American "Space Oddity" and U.K. "Life on Mars?" releases, and as a live a-side in 1995. In addition, he arranged, produced, and performed on Lulu's 1974 British hit rendering.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Man Who Sold the World 1970 Atlantic / Elektra / Rhino / Warner Bros. / Warner Music
Sound + Vision 1989 Parlophone / Rhino 3:58
No Image 1990
Various Artists
Rykodisc 3:55
Strangers When We Meet 1995 BMG/RCA 3:34
The Best of David Bowie 1969-1974 1997 EMI Digital / Parlophone / Warner Music 3:58
No Image 1997 Moonraker Music
40 Hits: 1970-1974 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 3:49
Bowie at the Beeb: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72 2000 EMI Music Distribution 3:58
Best of Bowie 2002 EMI / EMI Digital / Parlophone 3:58
A Reality Tour 2004 Friday Music
The Platinum Collection 2006 Virgin 3:56
Kurt Cobain: About a Son [Soundtrack] 2007
Original Soundtrack
Barsuk 3:54
Nothing Has Changed 2014 Parlophone 3:57
Five Years 1969-1973 2015 Rhino 4:01
No Image 2016 Sony Music 3:58
No Image DB
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