The Man Who Sold The World
released November 4, 1970
Mercury 61325 (US)
released April 10, 1971
Mercury 6338 041 (UK)
reissued November 10, 1972
RCA LSP 4816
The Width Of A Circle 8:07
All The Madmen 5:38
Black Country Rock 3:33
After All 3:52
Running Gun Blues 3:12
Saviour Machine 4:27
She Shook Me Cold 4:13
The Man Who Sold The World 3:58
The Supermen 3:39
Produced and remixed by Tony Visconti
Engineered by Ken Scott
David Bowie (vocals, guitar, Stylophone)
Mick Ronson (guitar, vocals)
Tony Visconti (bass, piano, guitar)
Mick Woodmansey (drums, percussion)
Ralph Mace (Moog synthesiser)
Cover illustration (US issue) by Mike Weller (uncredited)
Cover photography (UK issue) Keef
Cover photography (RCA reissue) Brian Ward (front), Mick Rock (back)
October 1984 RCA CD
January 1990 Ryko/EMI remastered CD
with bonus tracks:
Lightning Frightening 3:38
Holy Holy* 2:20
Moonage Daydream (Arnold Corns version) 3:52
Hang On To Yourself (Arnold Corns version) 2:51
September 1999 EMI remastered CD
January 2007 Toshiba EMI mini LP replica CD
Advision and Trident Studios, London
April 17 - May 22, 1970
Visconti and Bowie at Trident, May 4
Recording began with a four-hour session starting at 1am. With little in the way of prepared material, it fell to the band to work up Bowie’s song ideas into music.
Bowie (1971): I used to have periods, weeks on end, when I just couldn't cope anymore. I'd slump into myself … I felt so depressed, and I really felt so aimless, and this torrential feeling of 'what's it all for anyway?' A lot of it (the album) went through that period, Width Of A Circle was definitely that – I went to the depths of myself in that. I tried to analogize the period of my life from when I left school to that time – to the making of that LP. Just for my own benefit, not really for any listener's benefit. [Cromelin, Richard. ‘The darling of the avant garde’ (Phonograph Record, January 1972)]
Visconti (1982): David had Space Oddity under his belt, and he was living off those royalties and had become very complacent – this man would not get out of bed and write a song, and he had a commitment to make an album! [Grundy, Stuart. The Record Producers: Tony Visconti (BBC Books, 1982)]
Visconti (1974): I have a pretty positive approach to work so I was very unhappy about the situation. With a lot of persuasion I managed to get David to give us some chord changes to work on and we ended up with the ridiculous situation where the entire production for the whole album was set – except for the melody and words. [Fox-Cumming, Ray. ‘Behind Bolan and Bowie’ (Disc, 28 September 1974)]
Visconti (1985): Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey and myself would be making up backing tracks, having got a brief from David – it was E chord for 16 bars then an A chord for four bars and a B chord for two bars – and we were just banging out these backing tracks, and David would come into the studio and say whether he liked it or not. [Juby, Kerry. In Other Words: David Bowie (Omnibus Press, 1986)]
Visconti (1982): It's hard to say how much you do when you write a song with someone else, and even though we weren't credited as writers, Mick and I were getting the chord changes together. Width Of A Circle was the only track that was written, and that was only the first part of the song that was written. The second part, where it goes into a boogie, was written in the studio, and Mick and I definitely wrote all that, and David just threw all his words and melody on top. All The Madmen, instance, originally had a working title of The Man Who Sold The World. Later, we just laid down the chords, the arrangements, the guitar solos, the synthesisers, the recorders, and David would be out in the lobby of Advision, holding hands with Angie. [Grundy, Stuart. The Record Producers: Tony Visconti (BBC Books, 1982)]
Ralph Mace (1986): It was creation in the studio. They began with a basic idea from one instrument or one vocal line. They would start adding and then they would change according to their whims. They got a core of the sound and then they started overdubbing and if it worked they kept it and if it didn’t they would do it again, and it was a creative build-up, a synthesis. David would bounce ideas off people. There was a lot of creative interplay with all the people there.
The Man Who Sold The World was the last song recorded for the album, with Bowie writing the lyrics on the spot at the last minute, which had been the pattern throughout the recording period. On later albums Visconti became accustomed to Bowie’s approach, but at the time found it frustrating.
Visconti (1985): By the last week, I didn’t have a vocal on two of the tracks and this is where it actually began – David writing on microphone. He’d start singing spontaneously. It was really wonderful. When he was hot, he was hot, but for me the whole thing was not so good. I had two big conflicts – getting this done technically, which I was struggling with, and also, managing to get a good performance out of David. I had a record company screaming for final mixes, not even sure that they wanted this album. As far as they were concerned, this was the last they had to do with David Bowie and I wasn’t delivering the goods. [Juby, Kerry. In Other Words: David Bowie (Omnibus Press, 1986)]
Four months after its completion, The Man Who Sold The World was in limbo. Philips had internal problems since the departure of ousted general manager Olav Wyper. He told Ken Pitt in 1982, “I left Philips and went to RCA and it seemed to me that it all went quiet for David.” With him went Bowie’s support at the label, and postproduction of the album stalled.
Visconti (1986): There were only four people in the world who liked that album at the time – me, Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey and David. The record company didn’t.
Fortunately Robin McBride came over from Chicago to push album production forward and Bowie began formulating a cover concept. Back in June, Pitt had mused, “I wonder if Andy Warhol would design the album cover, or do a portrait we could use. Or Hockney?”
With Pitt gone and Philips in disarray, this ambitious idea never materialised. Bowie turned instead to another Pop artist, Mike Weller – a friend who had designed posters for the Beckenham Arts Lab and visited Haddon Hall occasionally. Weller was part of the politicised Penge Artists Union and related to the album’s themes of oppression and malevolence.
He produced an illustration of John Wayne carrying a gun (referencing Running Gun Blues) in front of Cane Hill, a mental hospital where Weller had recently visited a friend. Unbeknownst to Weller, this referenced All The Madmen, which Bowie wrote about his schizophrenic half-brother Terry, who was a patient there.
Bowie (1972): All The Madmen was written for my brother and it's about my brother. He's the man inside, and he doesn't want to leave. He's perfectly happy there – perfectly happy: Doesn't have to work, just lies there on the lawn all day, looking at the sky. He's very happy. [Cromelin, Richard. ‘The darling of the avant garde’ (Phonograph Record, January 1972)]
Weller’s painting Metrobolist, which Bowie adopted as the album title, would be the front cover.
Bowie told Philips art director Mike Stanford that he wanted a gatefold sleeve opening to reveal a series of photographs showing him in a ‘domestic environment’ i.e. Haddon Hall, with its art deco screens and antique finery.
Stanford brought in designer/photographer Keith ‘Keef’ MacMillan who was well known for his work for on labels like Vertigo, which Olav Wyper had launched in 1969. Keef’s iconic cover for Black Sabbath’s debut, released in February, was typical of his work. Eye magazine describes Keef’s “imagined rural past” as “located in some magical time before the First World War but after Sgt. Pepper. He combines references from the Pre-Raphaelites, pagan ritual, P. H. Emerson’s photographs, Edwardian fashion and the legend of King Arthur, to create a future-past that is both carnivalesque and downbeat, shaped by small pleasures and overshadowed by a sense of doom.” [Beck, John and Cornford, Matthew. ‘Home Counties surrealism’ (Eye 68)]
The Man Who Sold The World in a nutshell.
Keef arrived at Haddon Hall to photograph Bowie in his domestic environment, which was far from average, as was his choice of dress - literally. Bowie had recently purchased two medieval style velvet gowns from the Mr Fish boutique where his old friend Geoff MacCormack worked. Bowie chose one of these gowns and reclined on a couch in the style of Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Robin McBride then returned to Chicago with the master tapes and the artwork, along with Bowie’s specific instructions.
On the album's release in America, Bowie was horrified to find that Mercury had ignored most of his artwork instructions. The gatefold and photography was gone, and they had removed the text from the speech bubble (“roll up your sleeves and show us your arms”) leaving it blank.
When the album was finally released in the UK, the cover design followed Bowie’s specifications: Keef's photograph – a Dante Gabriel Rossetti parody – printed on linen textured stock to simulate a painter’s canvas.