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42 years ago, David Bowie wrote and released one of the key songs of the 20th century, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’. The addictive, simple and melodic guitar riff paired with introspective, cryptic lyrics proved to be a successful formula. The song has since been covered by many artists in many different styles, most notably by Nirvana in 1993 during their MTV Unplugged sessions.

David Bowie, ‘Heathen’ photoshoot, 2002

David Bowie wrote the song in 1970 and it appeared on the album of the same title. Most of the themes of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album concern madness and self-exploration and the title track is no exception  We don’t really know who is the man who sold the world, nor how he did it, but we may believe that, just like many Bowie’s songs from the 1970s, this song is a song about changes of a person, asking once again the old question ‘who am I’?

Bowie’s tremendous creative influence is partly due to his ability to express his deeper, heavier ideas in an appealing way. The melody line of  ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ is simply enchanting, leaving no space or, in fact, reason to wonder what it’s all about. Similar to his other great works, such as ‘Life on Mars’, most of the time you don’t know what it’s all about, but you know it’s a true work of art and you don’t really care.

The song was covered by many artists, first by Lulu in 1974, then by Lea Laven, Midge Ure, Here & Now, Simple Minds, Ed Kuepper, Cocosuma, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Nine Inch Nails, and perhaps most notably by Nirvana in 1993.

Nirvana performing ‘The Man Who Sold the World’

While Nirvana’s version didn’t really do it justice, it surely brought this great song to the attention of the younger audiences of the time. David Bowie has also provided several completely new live arrangements to the song during the years.

Check the cover and live versions of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ we have selected for you:

David Bowie performing the song in Dublin in 2003.

Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged version

Midge Ure’s 1982 cover version



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