The Man Who Sold The World
David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar
Mick Ronson: electric guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey: drums
Perhaps the bawdiest moment on David Bowie’s third album The Man Who Sold The World, ‘She Shook Me Cold’ was recorded under the more prosaic title ‘Suck’.
The two guys I was working with, drummer Woody Woodmansey and guitarist Mick Ronson, are semi-pro musicians from the North. They had a lot of trouble with my stuff ’cause they’re blues freaks, ah, and it’s all very hard and ultra-masculine stuff, so I thought I’d write one for them. And they loved it; they played their guts out on it!
The song is a straight – in every sense – counterpart to the homoerotic fantasies of ‘The Width Of A Circle’: Bowie’s protagonist meets a female atop a hill at night, she performs oral sex and “blew my brain”, before he throws her down and enters her.
Bowie couches the tale in sadomasochistic imagery – the woman “took my head, smashed it up”, “crushed me mercilessly”, “blew my brain” – as well as unsubtle double entendres: “she craved my head”; “I’ll give my love in vain” (vein). There is also a hint of Oedipal fantasy: the lyrics are addressed to both mother and father, despite the protagonist, who “broke the hearts of many young virgins,” clearly being beyond an innocent age.
I like a song that not many other people like – ‘She Shook Me Cold’. That’s when we’re just really rocking out, we’re jamming out.
As with several of the songs on The Man Who Sold The World, the backing track was recorded before Bowie had a clear idea of the lyrics.
I constantly asked myself, ‘Will he or won’t he finish these songs on time?’ This, however, worked like a drug for David and most of the songs on the album, like ‘Black Country Rock’, ‘The Saviour Machine’ [sic], ‘She Shook Me Cold’ and ‘All The Madman’ were written well after we’d recorded the backing tracks.
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
Opening with a Mick Ronson wah-wah guitar squall that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, ‘She Shook Me Cold’ is one of the heaviest tracks on The Man Who Sold The World, with the power trio of Ronson, Visconti and Woodmansey given enough space to improvise during the extended instrumental mid-section to rival Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin or Cream.
There are some big drums in ‘She Shook Me Cold’. In this song we were being out-and-out raw and sexual – well, at least I was! I still think Mick’s guitar intro on this song is probably the rudest, dirtiest guitar ever recorded.
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie, 1971
It is hard to draw a line to ‘She Shook Me Cold’ from Bowie’s juvenile storyteller of 1967, or the embittered folk stylist of the Space Oddity album. According to Visconti, the backing tracks were deliberately kept sparse yet full-sounding, recorded “with no overdubs, so that we could play that song live and not disappoint”.
Ronson made me do it. He kept telling me to push the bass up higher in the mix. I must admit we were a damn good power trio. Thanks to David’s wonderful melody and especially the dynamic chord changes, this song instantly sounded like a heavy metal rock classic, but with better chords. We played at a deafening volume in Advision Studios. I wore headphones to keep the sound out!
Five Years (1969–1973) book
‘She Shook Me Cold’ was performed on just one known date of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which ran from 29 January 1972 to 3 July 1973. It was performed on 25 February 1972 at the Avery Hill College in Eltham, London.