The Man Who Sold the World is a song written and performed by David Bowie. It is the title track of his third album, which was released in the U.S. in November 1970 and in the UK in April 1971.
The song has been covered by a number of other artists, notably by Lulu, who had a UK No. 3 hit with her version in 1974, and Nirvana, whose 1993 performance of the song for the television program MTV Unplugged introduced it to a new audience.
The song’s title is similar to that of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1949 science fiction novella The Man Who Sold the Moon, with which Bowie was familiar. However, the song has no similarities to the story in the book. The persona in the song has an encounter with a kind of doppelgänger, as suggested in the second chorus where “I never lost control” is replaced with “We never lost control”. Beyond this, the episode is unexplained: as James E. Perone wrote,
Bowie encounters the title character, but it is not clear just what the phrase means, or exactly who this man is. … The main thing that the song does is to paint – however elusively – the title character as another example of the societal outcasts who populate the album.
In the BBC Radio 1 special programme “ChangesNowBowie”, broadcast on 8 January 1997, Bowie was interviewed by Mary Anne Hobbs and was asked about the song. Bowie commented: “I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there’s some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.” (source: Wikipedia)
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