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.