David Bowie's Albums From Worst To Best

The Man Who Sold The World (1970)

And the band began to assemble. Featuring all but one of the future Spiders from Mars –longtime Bowie conspirator and producer Tony Visconti was still playing bass instead of future-Spider Trevor Bolder — The Man Who Sold the World dove into heavier, hairier territory than anything Bowie had yet done (or would do). Largely arranged by Visconti and new guitarist Mick Ronson, TMWSTW continued Bowie’s trend of massive strides in songwriting between each album — here he drew on Nietzsche and other literary influences to craft his lyrics, writing songs about supermen, omniscient machines, and his half-brother’s ailing mental health. These days, the album is clearly best-remembered for the title track, which most folks of my generation were introduced to via a random acoustic rendition from some long-gone Seattle band. Oddly enough, Bowie’s version wasn’t a single on its own — it’s buried in the back half of a dense album full of de-centered hard rock — interesting, then, that Bowie orchestrated his own reinvention for the Scottish singer Lulu a few years later, which became a legitimate hit. The album remains under-appreciated within Bowie’s early catalog, but moments of genius are there if you’re willing to look. Striking in its simplicity, “After All” turns a minced oath into a haunting refrain over a subdued, sinister waltz. “The Supermen” is based around an actual Jimmy Page riff — given to Bowie years earlier during the recording of early single “I Pity the Fool” — and a whole mess of intellectual pseudo-babble: “I was still going through the thing when I was pretending that I understood Nietzsche.” That it actually works is proof enough no one sells high-concept like David Bowie.