1001 Songs Challenge,  1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #307: The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

From Monaco, we take a plane north and come back to the UK. London is where we set ourselves down to search for today’s guest. He is a bit elusive so it might take some time. He goes by different names such as Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and Jareth The Goblin King. We are, of course, talking about David Bowie, one of the UK’s greatest singers and critically renowned globally. Back in 1970 Bowie had hit the UK Top 10 with Space Oddity but stardom continued to elude him. In 1970 he released his third album and 1001 Songs has lifted the title track – The Man Who Sold the World.

The Man Who Sold the World is a bit of a – excuse the pun – oddity. In the song, Bowie sings about passing a man on the stairs and they engage in conversation. It’s very peculiar. This man claims to be Bowie’s friend but Bowie responds that he assumed he died long ago. This is the man of the title, the one who sold the world but who this could be is unclear. It’s been regarded by some interpretations as a doppelganger met on the stairs while others state this is akin to a conversation we have with ourselves. Bowie would later say in interviews that the song relates to the search for ourselves when we are young, trying to locate all the pieces to put together and to shape our lives. It’s a tricky one to suss out but the lyrics are fascinating. 

The Man Who Sold the World is a song I have been familiar with for a long time. I do love David Bowie’s work and fully recommend the great man’s many albums. Though a puzzling track, The Man Who Sold the World is one of Bowie’s best songs prior to his Ziggy Stardust persona that was just around the corner in 1972. It has been covered by many artists, most memorably by Nirvana in 1993 during Unplugged in New York, one of Kurt Cobain’s finest live performances. Better songs would come for David Bowie, as would stardom, but this is a good example of his early potential for greatness.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)

The Kinks – Days (1968)

King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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