The Man Who Sold The World album coverRecorded: 17 April – 22 May 1970
Producer: Tony Visconti
Engineers: Ken Scott, Gerald Chevin, Eddie Offord

Released: 10 April 1971 (UK); 4 November 1970 (US)

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, Stylophone, harmonica
Mick Ronson: guitar, Moog synthesizer, recorder, vocals
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, piano, recorder, vocals
Ralph Mace: Moog synthesizer
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey: drums, güiro, timpani

Tracklisting:

  • ‘The Width Of A Circle’
  • ‘All The Madmen’
  • ‘Black Country Rock’
  • ‘After All’
  • ‘Running Gun Blues’
  • ‘Saviour Machine’
  • ‘She Shook Me Cold’
  • ‘The Man Who Sold The World’
  • ‘The Supermen’

David Bowie’s third album featured future members of the Spiders From Mars, with a hard rock style and lyrical themes including paranoia, schizophrenia, hallucination, fantasy, lust, God and the devil.

This happens to be one of my favourite albums by David Bowie. It is dark and foreboding, heavy, no love songs, nothing really cute about it. We began a running joke with the commencement of this album, ‘Let’s make this our Sgt Pepper‘. What we were implying is that we were really going for it, no compromise, no search for the Holy Grail of Pop, the No. 1 single. If it comes, it comes.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Five Years book

In February 1970 he began performing live with a new backing band, Hype. Their debut was at the Roundhouse in London on 22 February, where each member assumed an alter-ego: Bowie was known as Rainbowman or Space Star; bass guitarist Tony Visconti was Hyperman; guitarist Mick Ronson became Gangsterman; and drummer John Cambridge was Cowboyman.

The proto-glam personas were short-lived, but Bowie and the band entered Trident Studios on 21 March 1970 – the day after David’s wedding to Angela Barnett – to begin recording a standalone single. It was a remake of ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ from Bowie’s eponymous 1969 album, split into two parts. They also taped an early version of ‘The Supermen’, but John Cambridge’s struggle to master the drum part led to his being ejected from the band shortly afterwards.

Mick Ronson recommended 20-year-old Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey as Cambridge’s replacement. An audition was held at Haddon Hall, Bowie’s rented Victorian house at 42 Southend Road in Beckenham, Kent. Woodmansey passed the test, quit his job in Hull, and moved into the sprawling house along with Ronson, Visconti and the producer’s partner Liz Hartley.

Meeting Mick Ronson was very fortuitous, as we were involved in a casual link to a certain group of rock musicians from Hull, in Yorkshire, England. There was no shortage of London musicians, Soho pubs had them spilling out into the streets. Our drummer, John Cambridge, introduced us to his former band mate. He was a fan of Jeff Beck and so were we. We wanted to make a formidable rock album and he was just perfect. Unfortunately for John, Mick Ronson recommended another drummer who also played in his band, The Rats, Mick (Woody) Woodmansey. The stage was then set for The Man Who Sold The World. Ronson told me I had to emulate Jack Bruce, his favourite bass player. I took his advice and did just that. As a student of Beethoven, who wrote the coolest lead bass and cello parts, I got it. I completely got it.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Five Years book

The cellar of Haddon Hall was turned into a practice room, where much of The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and the Ziggy Stardust album were sketched out.

We had no money to put up Mick and Woody but David and I shared a large Victorian flat in Beckenham, called Haddon Hall. There was also a gallery on the next floor – that, and three mattresses on the floor, served as open bedrooms for Woody, Mick and an Australian roadie we picked up along the way, Roger. We cleaned out the wine cellar and stuck egg crates on the wall (which do not make a room soundproof, they just make it look like that) and we commenced to practice long and hard. The furnishings were stark and we only had a small black and white television for entertainment, there wasn’t really much more to do except for band practice.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Five Years book

Bowie was living off his royalties from the chart success of ‘Space Oddity’, along with a modest advance for the new album. The rest of the band had little money, which caused some friction among the residents of Haddon Hall.

There was great inequity between us because David was the only one among us – including the musicians and roadie – who had any money, and it was all going into his bedroom furniture and artworks, etc. He and Angela would disappear for days at a time and arrive home with valuable pieces of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. He was eager to share his new-found knowledge, and I learned a lot from him about these periods. The rest of us could barely scratch up the £8 a week for housekeeping. If David and Angela did the week’s shopping, there would sometimes be arguments about whether they were thrifty enough and had bought a practical week’s worth of staple items. Not that they were thieves or gourmets, but David and Angela ate what they wanted, not what they needed, compared to the rest of us. The Spartan life was not for them.
Tony Visconti
Strange Fascination, David Buckley