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A Beginner’s Guide to David Bowie

on January 06, 2016, 12:00am

Precursor to The Spiders from Mars

“The Man Who Sold the World” from The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

Released in 1970 as the title track to Bowie’s third studio album, “The Man Who Sold the World” demonstrated the heavy rock sound of his new backing band (Tony Visconti on bass, Mick Ronson on electric guitar, and Mick Woodmansey on drums), the future Spiders from Mars. The track is the exception to the other songs on the album — bass-heavy and Black Sabbath-scented. Sci-fi intersects with relaxed Latin rhythms and acoustic guitar strumming underneath Bowie’s lyrics, telling one of many paranoid tales of the future in gently psychedelic phased-over vocals. Nirvana’s notorious cover for MTV’s Unplugged acoustic series in 1993 treated the tune with a similarly relaxed and detached style, contrasting with the dystopic subject matter but demonstrating the song’s timelessness. In the early ‘70s, the album and song were laying the foundation for glam rock and Bowie’s upcoming Ziggy Stardust era, but in 2016, it’s being mistaken by millennial degenerates shopping in Urban Outfitters as a Nirvana original. This is not necessarily a surprise, considering the song’s melodic straightforwardness and accessibility, which has always been a clear point of access for Nirvana and Bowie lovers alike. —Erin Manning