Monday, March 04, 2013

Bowie Week - The Man Who Sold The World (1970)

The new Bowie album, "The Next Day," is released on Monday 11th March, it will be his twenty fourth studio album and I thought it would be an opportunity in the seven days prior to its release to look back over some of his other releases. If you want to avoid seven days of self indulgent pretentious twaddle I'll see you next Tuesday, if you are still here let's begin.

First up is The Man Who Sold The World (studio album number 3) which first saw the light of day here in the U.K back in April 1971 having been recorded the previous spring. Bowie played guitar (and stylophone - I still have mine!), Mick Ronson (of course) played guitar, Mick Woodmansey played drums and Tony Visconti played bass and produced the album.

Darling, you look divine.
Side One features four tracks: "The Width of A Circle", "All the Madmen," "Black Country Rock," and "After All." This album is cited by many as being the start of 'glam rock' but I can't see the connection myself, I would have thought Electric Warrior by T.Rex was the first 'glam' album, if anything this album sounds like a mash up between Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and the stirrings of prog rock, although in Bowie's defence his single "The Prettiest Star" released in 1970, and later re-recorded in 1973 for Aladdin Sane would probably be my candidate for first glam rock single.

As if to display its rock credentials the eight minute, opening track, 'Width Of A Circle" even manages to include a riff that is straight out of Status Quo and with a gentle nod to the abum that preceded it (Space Oddity) the track closes with timpani drums sounding like something from the soundtrack of 2001 A Space Odyssey. "All the Madmen," was the favourite track off the album for many of my peers, it begins like something out of the enchanted forest, you can imagine Bowie and Ronson dressed in green suits cavorting in the woods, before Visconti's bass line and Woodmansey's drums lead us into a Mick Ronson solo that is nothing like glam at all. The track even includes some spoken verse which takes it very close to Spinal Tap 'Stonehenge' territory, before some spanish style noodling from Ronson. "Black Country Rock," sounds like a heavy metal piss take, again Ronson's guitar playing and Visconti's bass drive the track along, the lyrics are as banal as Bowie gets, with lazy rhymes and nonsensical couplets but just listen to that bass - the final time that Visconti was to play bass before Trevor Bolder became the final part of the Spiders From Mars.

"After All," is Bowie as Anthony Newley with lyrics inspired by Lewis Carroll and Friedrich Nietzsche, it features some great stylophone playing and the waltz signature time means that it almost slips into Bavarian drinking song territory at one point. It's a dark track that would have easily fitted on the next Bowie album, "Hunky Dory." Still one of his hidden gems.

Side Two has five tracks: "Running Gun Blues," "Saviour Machine," "She Shook Me Cold," "The Man Who Sold The World," and "The Supermen".

The second and fourth verses of "Running Gun Blues" are "I slash them cold, I kill them dead/I broke the gooks, I cracked their heads/
I'll bomb them out from under the beds/ But now I've got the running gun blues" - and if  you can decipher those you are a better man than me Gunga-Din. "Saviour Machine," seems to me to be about cautioning against wishing and waiting for something or someone to come along and free you from your physical or mental slavery. "She Shook Me Cold," is the most obvious Led Zep/Sabbath influenced track on the album and it has been covered by a couple of heavy metal bands in their live shows.

The penultimate track, the title track, is probably the most famous song from the album having been recorded by Lulu and probably most famously by Nirvana on their Unplugged appearance. The lyrics have been studied and discussed for most of the past 43 years with an intensity bordering on obsessive or possibly Dylanesque. There's little doubt, particularly when you listen to Kurt Cobain's interpretation, that the song is about split personalities or the one personality split into many compartments. Whatever the lyrics mean there's no getting away from the fact that Mick Ronson's opening riff is one of the most easily recognisable, not only in Bowie's history but that of popular music itself.

Last up is "The Supermen," a song Bowie explained at the time was down to him pretending to understand the works of  Nietzsche, long before Joey Barton tried the same trick! The guitar riff on this track was used by Jimmy Page during his time as a 60's session musician and again by Bowie 27 years later on the track "Dead Man Walking."

The world wasn't quite ready for this album when first released as it failed to dent an album chart that contained works by Andy Williams and the ubiquitous 'various artists' in the shape of Motown Chartbusters. When it was re-released in November 1972, on the back of the success of Ziggy Stardust, complete with new cover, it made no.26, fighting for chart space with the likes of Rod Stewart (Never a Dull Moment) and those bloody 'Various Artists' who in many guises topped the album charts for 30 out of 35 weeks from June 1972 to January 1973, with the exception of Rod who saved the chart from a complete collapse of integrity for five weeks. 

This album marks the beginning and end of Bowie's recorded experimentation with the blues, a new era and new character was just around the corner and things would never quite be the same again.


Span Ows said...


Settles down...

Gets popcorn...

Paul said...

No pressure then!

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