February 16, 2014

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 41: David Bowie 2 ~ The Man Who Sold the World

reel-to-reel tape front cover detail
photographer unknown 
detail photo by Styrous®

I have hundreds of reel-to-reel, pre-recorded tapes in addition to my 20,000 Vinyl LP collection I'm selling. This is an entry about one of them. The Man Who Sold the World, reel-to-reel tape by David Bowie, was for sale on eBay on March 15, 2014. I will have other David Bowie reel-to-reel tapes on eBay for sale (links below). Interested? Contact me by email, please, not by a comment.

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1972 US release on RCA Records
reel-to-reel tape front cover
photographer unknown 
photo of album cover by Styrous®

The Man Who Sold the World is the third studio album by David Bowie, originally released on Mercury Records in November 1970 in the US, and in April 1971 in the UK.

The album was written and rehearsed at David Bowie's home in Haddon Hall, Beckenham, an Edwardian mansion converted to a block of flats described by one visitor as having an ambience "like Dracula's living room" (I love it).

Bowie was preoccupied with his new wife Angie at the time, the music was largely arranged by guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist/producer Tony Visconti. Although Bowie is officially credited as the composer of all music on the album, biographers such as Peter Doggett have evidence to the contrary, quoting Visconti saying "the songs were written by all four of us. We'd jam in a basement, and Bowie would just say whether he liked them or not." In Doggett's narrative, "The band (sometimes with Bowie contributing guitar, sometimes not) would record an instrumental track, which might or might not be based upon an original Bowie idea. Then, at the last possible moment, Bowie would reluctantly uncurl himself from the sofa on which he was lounging with his wife, and dash off a set of lyrics."

The original 1970 US release of The Man Who Sold the World employed a cartoon-like cover drawing by Bowie's friend Michael J. Weller, featuring a cowboy in front of the Cane Hill mental asylum.

 David Bowie
original 1970 US release

The first UK cover, on which Bowie is seen reclining in a Mr Fish "man's dress", was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The dress was designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish, and Bowie also used it in February 1971 on his first promotional tour to the United States, where he wore it during interviews despite the fact that the Americans had no knowledge of the as yet unreleased UK cover.

 gown by Michael Fish
1971 UK release

The 1971 German release presented a winged hybrid creature with Bowie's head and a hand for a body, preparing to flick the Earth away. 

1971 Germany release

Most of the songs have a heavy metal edge that distinguishes it from Bowie's other releases, except for two songs on the album that are my favorites. The Man Who Sold the World has a ratchet that gives it a sensual cha-cha beat makes me think of a smokey bar in some far off, exotic and tropical, Latin local. It is a beautiful song.

The second song, After All, is a slow, dreamy waltz with a children's chorus backup and an occasional organ that lends a circus feel to it. I love this song and its lyric which I have included below.

1972 release on RCA Records
reel-to-reel tape back cover
photographer unknown 
photo of album cover back by Styrous®

The Man Who Sold the World was generally more successful commercially and critically in the US than in the UK on its original release in 1970–71. Music publications Melody Maker and NME found it "surprisingly excellent" and "rather hysterical", respectively. John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone called the album "uniformly excellent" and commented that producer Tony Visconti's "use of echo, phasing, and other techniques on Bowie's voice serves to reinforce the jaggedness of Bowie's words and music", which he interpreted as "oblique and fragmented images that are almost impenetrable separately but which convey with effectiveness an ironic and bitter sense of the world when considered together". Oh, MY!

The album has been cited as influencing the goth rock, darkwave and science fiction elements of work by artists such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Nine Inch Nails. In his journal, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana listed it at number 45 in his top 50 favourite albums.

reel-to-reel tape back cover detail
photographer unknown 
detail photo by Styrous®

It has been claimed that glam rock began with the release of this album, though this is also attributed to Marc Bolan's appearance on the UK TV programme Top of the Pops in December 1970 wearing glitter, to perform what would be his first UK hit single under the name T. Rex, Ride a White Swan, which peaked at Number 2 in the UK chart.

detail photo by Styrous®

In a retrospective review, Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine cited the album as "the beginning of David Bowie's classic period" and complimented its "tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen". Erlewine viewed its music and Bowie's "paranoid futuristic tales" as "bizarre", adding that "Musically, there isn't much innovation; it is almost all hard blues-rock or psychedelic folk-rock – but there's an unsettling edge to the band's performance, which makes the record one of Bowie's best albums".

In a 1999 review upon the album's reissue, Q gave it three out of five stars and called it "a robust, sexually charged affair". Mojo stated in a 2002 review, "A robust set that spins with dizzying disorientation; Bowie's armoury was being hastily assembled, though it was never deployed with such thrilling abandon again".

reel-to-reel tape label detail
detail photo by Styrous®

After All Lyrics:

Please trip them gently, they don't like to fall, Oh by jingo
There's no room for anger, we're all very small, Oh by jingo
We're painting our faces and dressing in thoughts from the skies, from paradise
But they think that we're holding a secretive ball.
Won't someone invite them
They're just taller children, that's all, after all

Man is an obstacle, sad as the clown, Oh by jingo
So hold on to nothing, and he won't let you down, Oh by jingo
Some people are marching together and some on their own
Quite alone
Others are running, the smaller ones crawl
But some sit in silence, they're just older children
That's all, after all

I sing with impertinence, shading impermanent chords,
With my words
I've borrowed your time and I'm sorry I called
But the thought just occurred that we're nobody's children at all, after all

Live your rebirth and do what you will, Oh by jingo
Forget all I've said, please bear me no ill, Oh by jingo
After all, after all

Track listing:

Side one:
1. The Width of a Circle - 8:05
2. All the Madmen - 5:38
3. Black Country Rock - 3:32
4. After All - 3:52

Side two:
1. Running Gun Blues - 3:11
2. Saviour Machine - 4:25
3. She Shook Me Cold  - 4:13
4. The Man Who Sold the World - 3:55
5. The Supermen - 3:38

All songs written and composed by David Bowie.


Music links:

The Man Who Sold the World (full album) on YouTube
After All on YouTube
The Man Who Sold the World on YouTube

David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World reel-to-reel tape on eBay 

reel-to-reel listings on eBay

We're nobody's children at all, after all!

Styrous® ~ February 15, 2013


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