The Man Who Sold The World

Album: The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
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  • This song is about a man who no longer recognizes himself and feels awful about it. For years, Bowie struggled with his identity and expressed himself through his songs, often creating characters to perform them. On the album cover, Bowie is wearing a dress.
  • Some of the lyrics are based on a poem by Hugh Mearns called The Psychoed:

    As I was going up the stair
    I met a man who was not there
    He wasn't there again today
    I wish that man would go away
  • Some lyrical analysis: "We passed upon the stair" is a figurative representation of a crossroads in Bowie's life, where Ziggy Stardust catches a glimpse of his former self, (being David Bowie) which he thought had died a long time ago. Then he (the old David Bowie) says: "Oh no, not me. I never lost control." This indicates that Bowie never really lost sight of who he was, but he Sold The World (made them believe) that he had become Ziggy, and he thought it was funny (I laughed and shook his hand). He goes on to state, "For years and years I roamed," which could refer to touring. "Gaze a gazely stare at all the millions here" are the fans at concerts. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Peter - Montreal, Canada
  • The album is one of Bowie's least known, but over the years many fans have come to appreciate it and a lot of bands have covered songs from it.

    Critics weren't always sure what to make of it either, but John Mendelssohn had a good handle on it when he wrote of the album in Rolling Stone magazine, 1971: "Bowie's music offers an experience that is as intriguing as it is chilling, but only to the listener sufficiently together to withstand the schizophrenia."
  • The British singer Lulu ("To Sir With Love") recorded this in 1974. Bowie produced her version and played saxophone on the track. It went to #4 in the UK. Lulu spoke to Uncut magazine June 2008 about her recording: "I first met Bowie on tour in the early '70s when he invited me to his concert. And back at the hotel, he said to me, in very heated language, 'I want to make an MF of a record with you. You're a great singer.' I didn't think it would happen, but he followed up two days later. He was uber cool at the time and I just wanted to be led by him. I didn't think 'The Man Who Sold The World' was the greatest song for my voice, but it was such a strong song in itself. In the studio, Bowie kept telling me to smoke more cigarettes, to give my voice a certain quality. We were like the odd couple. Were we ever an item? I'd rather not answer that one, thanks!
    For the video, people thought he came up with the androgynous look, but that was all mine. It was very Berlin cabaret. We did other songs, too, like 'Watch That Man,' 'Can You Hear Me?' and 'Dodo.' 'The Man Who Sold The World' saved me from a certain niche in my career. If we'd have carried on, it would have been very interesting."
  • Nirvana recorded this for their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. It was Chad Channing, who was Nirvana's drummer from 1988-1990, who introduced Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Bowie's music. Chad told us: "We were in Boston and stopped by this record store, and I found this copy of The Man Who Sold The World. It was a cool copy - it had the poster in it and everything. And those guys weren't familiar with the record. And I inquired about, 'What David Bowie do you like? Do you like David Bowie?' And they're like, 'Well, the only David Bowie we're familiar with is 'Let's Dance.' I was surprised. I was like, 'Really? Wow.' I was like, 'You've got to hear some early David Bowie, for sure.'

    So when I got the opportunity, I made a tape of the record at somebody's house, and then while we were touring around I just went ahead and popped the tape in and let it roll. After a bit, Kurt turned around and said to me, 'Who is this?' kind of like knowingly, just something familiar with the voice and stuff. I said, 'Well, this is David Bowie. This is The Man Who Sold the World record.' He's like, 'Yeah, this is really cool.' I said, 'You should check out Hunky Dory and stuff.' And so eventually, I'm sure he did. But he totally dug it."

    Months after the MTV show, Kurt Cobain was found dead. The acoustic set was released as an album in late 1994.
  • Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy called this "the first true goth record."
  • Beck performed this song with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear at the annual Clive Davis Grammy pre-party on February 14, 2016 in tribute to Bowie, who passed away a month earlier. "He's always been kind of guidepost or gravitational force for me," Beck said of Bowie.
  • On March 29, 2016, Michael Stipe performed this song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, accompanied only by a piano. Two days later, Stipe sang "Ashes To Ashes" with Karen Elston at a Bowie tribute concert held at Carnegie Hall.
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Comments: 101

  • Robert from Garden GroveI truly believe this song is unconsciously a projection of Adam (the first man) to himself. The man who sold the world is himself because the world was his domain and Satan tempted him with a force that was truly non-existent. Adam realizes after it was too late he forfeited something greater than what he acquired. The 'knowledge of good and evil' he acquired could never compare to what he had to begin with. The face he sees himself is in the personification of Satan. In reality Everyman senses this loss within himself when he comes to terms with his own mortality. Had our father (Adam) not forfeited himself for the sake of 'the knowledge of good and evil' we would not have suffered death. 'The man who sold the world' realizes his own foolishness upon his lack of wherewithal...
  • Kylem from SpaceThis is an abstract one, but simple. The narrator is talking to an unwanted part of themselves that they thought they had purged. A flaw in their personality, a mental illness, a belief, or previous way of life. It returns to haunt them. Telling someone they will die alone or "I thought you died alone" is an insult. Then, later in the song it changes to "we" meaning he's accepting this resurfacing aspect of himself.
  • Charles from FloridaAlthough looking back on a past self does sound intriguing, I think the the person he "met" on the stairs is simply someone from Bowie's past, most likely before he became famous.

    Although I'm sure the entire setup/plot/lyrics are supposed to symbolize a certain message and feeling, here's what essentially went down.

    Bowie and the man reunite while passing on a staircase one day.
    They talk about their past and about future prospects.
    To the man, Bowie is someone he met some time ago, but still holds a connection with him strengthened by the fact that Bowie followed his dreams; To Bowie, who's traveled and met many new people/friends, the man isn't really considered a friend, but rather an acquaintance.
    This is why Bowie is surprised when the man states that he was his friend.

    (Now here's where a lot of speculation comes into play)

    Bowie looks the man in the eyes and tells him he though he died alone a long time ago.
    To me, this means the man had some sort of vice or problem that Bowie knew about when they used to be "friends."
    In response, the man says "Oh no!, Not me! I never lost control. You're face to face with the man who sold the world... (in a tone that could be seen as "fake" upbeat, for it contrasts the sullen tone before it, think of it as if the man is saying it through grated teeth and a smile)
    He's stating that even though he had a problem, he never let it take control of him. In order to maintain this control, he kept his urges and desires in check. Essentially he's given up the things he wants from this world in exchange for control.
    This is what he means by "man who sold the world"

    Bowie laughs the man's response off, shakes his hand, and heads back home.
    Bowie then sings,"I searched for form and land." This is what basically everybody does. They are on a constant search for structure and material value (land is like one of the most expensive things you can own). Bowie could also mean he's looking for his own form as an individual and a "land of his own."
    Bowie continued this search for years, encountering many people along the way.
    Bowie then looks back on all the people he's met through his travels, and realizes its not just that man he met on the stairs that sold the world, everybody has done it.
    Using "We" from this point on = people as a collective.
    "We must have died alone" means everyone gave up the things they wanted out of life a while ago. This could symbolize the transition from childhood to adulthood (the mindset anyway).

    The ultimate "twist" here is that for the people other than Bowie, they think that "losing control" is the reason they would have died long ago, whereas in Bowie's eyes, its their forfeiture of their human desires that makes them dead.
  • David from Youngstown, OhioThis is Bowie's heaviest rock album.

    The comments above about Ziggy cannot possibly be accurate as this album pre-dates Ziggy by two years
  • Rudeboy from AustraliaAnother good version is that done by Simple Minds on the Neon Lights album - check it out.
  • Marcus from Columbia, MoI actually thought the cover was great. I really like the way Kurt sang it because it was raw. I probably was 12 or 13 when I had heard their cover and I was instantly mesmerized by the lyrics more then the music just because they were so interesting hearing them for the first time. I interpret it as a person seeing a side of themself that they haven't seen in a long time. Maybe who they used to be around the people they used to know. But at some point there was a transitional period where they changed but it wasn't a bitter change, like seeing an old friend. I agree that I don't think it's about God or Satan, that seems to cheesy. But it also could be about schizophrenia or something. It's all self interpretation, really. I just take it as discovering a part of yourself you haven't seen in awhile.
  • Bob from Bw92116, CaI really hope that David Bowie will someday make a statement about what he had in mind as who the "Man" is, when he wrote the song. Personally I don't buy either theory that it is Jesus or the devil, and neither do I believe it is Bowie himself looking back at an earlier version of himself - this song was too early in his career for that. It seems like it's about a particular historical figure, or about a certain type of person if not a specific person, but I wish David would someday just say what his own idea behind it was. As to the Nirvana vs. Bowie original, I don't like how Kurt Cobain's voice was off-pitch throughout the song and it sounds amateurish. Bowie's singing was on-key, leaving the delicate melody intact.
  • Hannah from Chipita Park, CoThis is a personal interpretation, but this song kinda sounds likes trip to me. I believe it was a personal trip he had, but it also came as a realization, and a lot of lyrics are metaphors.
  • E from Here, NjMANY of David Bowie's songs are thick with religious metaphors and allusions. HOWEVER - they are not allusions to Christ or biblical persons. David Bowie is not a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. Unless you are aware of his true religious practices, and could only be so if you yourself are practicing the same, you cannot possibly begin to analyze his lyrics. Most of the above comments are laughable at best. Read something by A.C. and educate yourself before you speculate.
  • Gavin from Leeds, United KingdomA bit disappointed at the amount of people saying who's version is better. It's irrellavent and slightly annoying (sorry no offence intended). People should be posting interesting things that other people would want to read, I don't really think many people are interested in which version someone they don't even know prefers. Sorry just my opinion.
  • Bahgalow from Rockford, IlI thought the song was him speaking to the devil in himself.. If I may..

    "We past along the stairs"-- Just him talking to himself while walking or going up stairs (normal living).
    "We spoke of was and when"-- Remebering his life where he made bad choices.
    "Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend"-- The Devil has been his "friend" even before he was born.
    "Which came as a suprise"-- Suprised that the devil was his friend. He was there with him through everything and that is suprising.(?)
    "I spoke into his eyes, I thought you died alone.. A long, long time ago"-- He just looked at himself and said I thought the devil was dead. Like how can he be a big part in his life if he died a long time ago?

    -- The rest of the song is The Devil Speaking back and to himself also.

    "Oh no. Not me. I never lost control."-- Refusing to admit defeat. Assuring he is still around and can be noticed still.
    "Your face to face, with the man who sold the world"-- Sold the world the idea that he does not exist.
    "I laughed and shook his hand"-- The devil laughs and shook his hand. The guy thinks The Devil died so the devil laughs, said goodbyes and made off.

    "And made my way back home"-- The World

    "I searched for form and land. Years and years I roam"-- "Form" being 'Man' and "Land" Being 'Earth'. He has been on Earth before us all along with God.
    "I gazed a gazely stare, at all the millions here"-- The Devil has seen us all since our birth and stares at us. Just gazing a us.
    "We must have died alone. A long long time ago"-- I think this is like "Hell on earth". We all left someplace lovely as spirits to be born on earth. Born alone. The Devil saying "We" as in Us and him are one. The same.
    "Who knows? Not me. We never lost control"-- We dont know if we died a long time ago to be born into a earthly body. And the devil will never tell because it would raise hope in Gods word. So if we ask "Who knows?" The devil says "Not me, we never lost control". We never lost control being our assurance that we are okay. Aslong as we have control, we dont need to know anything.

    Phew! Thats just my interpretation (Sp?) though. I like others people suggested too. One more thing.. Unga, Very hot! But she butchered this song. Its not a womans empowerment song as she seems to be trying to sing it like it is such. There is no parts that require yelling. Last time I heard the song there was just talk/singing. But thats women for ya.. Want equal rights n all.. lol
  • Richard from Tustin, CaOkay, this song was written in 1970, per David, Live at the Beeb, so there can be no reference to Ziggy who would not exist for another three years. Second, I believe the lyric to be: "I thought you died a long...a long, long time ago..." Third, I am an avid, true Bowie fan, and I have been listening to this ALBUM close to forty years, now, and I love Nirvanna's version. Finally, I love the analyses. Some very well thought-out and convincing analogies. Truly, I believe that this just flowed from David due to his struggle with God and religion, much like "Word On a Wing". There's even a kind of reference to this song: "Though it's safer than a strange land...", perhaps a bit of a stretch. Anyway, Love on ya' Ricky, Tustin, Ca
  • Jason from Harrisburg, PaI had some comments regarding what some people were saying about this song referring to Jesus Christ. It is true that He bought the world with His blood. However we could also see how He sold it, particularly from the perspective of the Jewish people. He sent His disciples out to give the gospel to the nations, in effect 'selling' the Jewish religion to people they had before been taught to consider unclean. Then, soon after Titus attacks the city, destroys the temple, and the Jews begin their diaspora. "I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed." Perhaps there is a bit of divine inspiration to this song, beyond the personal meaning that Bowie had intended (probably not theology but maybe).
  • Piotr from Chicago, IlHe meets a famous person, the person is going one way and he is going the other.
    They speak briefly about the person's past life.
    The person calls him his friend (fan), he tells him that he thought he was not around anymore, but he tells him, that he still is and all this was the plan.
    They said goodbyes, and he went his way,searching for his happiness. and it is different than what he expected at the beginning of the journey, and he is in the same place as the person in the beginning of the song.Amazed at the world and fullfilled.
  • Roy from London, United KingdomSorry I should've said that this was in reference to Lloyd, who thought TMTSTW was Lucifer; the world was sold to Lucifer not the other way round. At least that's what Christianity teaches. I would agree that Lucifer has sold the world a lie, but I've never understood that line of the song to be in that context.
  • Roy from London, United KingdomI'm not sure about the meaning of the song I just wanted to clarify something from a Christian perspective - it was God who sold the world, when he gave Satan dominion over the Earth, and Jesus, God in human form, died as payment for our souls. It's the line "I thought you died a long time ago," and the reply "oh no, not me" That always made me feel Bowie was referring to Jesus. Although some state that Jesus never died as he was resurrected, Christians believe the "fact" that he went through an earth life and suffered the pains of death demonstrates that our souls are more important than anything we go through as 'Earthly beings'. Maybe Bowie learnt this lesson as he passed the man on the stair (one ascending and one descending; hmmm) or perhaps it was an alter-ego letting him know everything was gonna be alright. I don't know just my thoughts!
  • Chairman Mao from Toronto, OnAccording to "The Complete David Bowie," Bowie himself stated that he hated encountering "kids that come up afterwards and say, 'It's cool you're doing a Nirvana song.' And I think, 'F*** you, you little tosser!'"
  • Chris from Ontario, Canadadavid bowie did a good job playing a nirvana song!
  • Scott from Hamburg, --I like Nirvana and Dabvid Bowie I think there works are the same
  • Christina from Az, AzYeah, I think this song is about Jesus, becuase you know Jesus will never lose control of the world, and Jesus died a long time ago but rose again!
  • Libby from Greeley, CoThis song is so much about Jesus Christ and the Christian dominated Western world. I love both Bowie and Nirvana!
  • Francisco from London, United KingdomI think this song is about Bowie meeting SYD BARRETT from Pink Floyd. He was profoundly influenced by him. And everyone used to say that Barrett's eyes would "get one lost if one looked too deep inside".
  • Maxwell from Richmond, VaThis is not a version of the song. This is THE song. The Nirvana cover was a version of the song. As far as which one was better, I personally say that the original version of any song is immediately better than the cover version. A cover of a song will most likely be the exact same riffs, lyrics, and style (acoustic/electric), unless of course, the artist covering the song has some sense of originality. The Nirvana version sounded great either way, but David Bowie is the original "Man Who Sold The World" and always will be.
  • Jose from Chandler, Az2 boys approched David after a concert and told him it was great that he covered a song by nirvana.
  • Jack from Lodi, NjMy personal interpretation of this song since I first heard it in 1973 is as follows, and this is what first came to mind as I listened.

    In my opinion there is only one person who can be considered to 'Have Sold The World', and that person is 'Adam'.

    In saying that I mean this - by his 'Fall' from grace he "Sold the human race Out' of paradise and into it's current condition.

    I don't think it can refer to Bowie's Ziggy persona simply because the song was released in 1970 prior to his creation of that character.

    Again this is my 'personal' interpretation; yet I also find those posted here to be quite insightful and well thought out.
  • Hector from Santa Fe, ArgentinaWhy does Phillip say, at the songfacts part, that Bowie arrived at Victoria Station wearing a full SS uniform? I've watched the video and I don't see it. Maybe his shirt and trousers look to Phillip like a SS uniform but you can't say they're a full SS uniform at all. That's a very subjective vision. On the matter of the salute, most people think that it wasn't a nazi salute, that actually he was caught in a mid-wave by the photographer. He was giving a normal salute to someone and it only looks like a nazi heil because of how the photograph is taken at the point where it looks like that. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  • Donna from Columbus, OhI have only heard John "Cougar" Mellencamp and Jordis sing this wonderful song. I will say David Bowie did a fantasic job creating it. I have never it done by Nirvana nor D. Bowie but .... since John Mellencamp is my favorite all time singer I love his version and it was recorded I would say in the late 70's when he went by Johnny Cougar. Don't knock it until you hear it by Mellencamp. He really does justice to the song.
    Donna, Columbus, OH
  • Omys from Ohio, Ohi never lost control...and he was right , he control us until today, kurt cobain and his great cover of this great song , lyrics full of mesterious meaning but in the same it s about this man who is a special one , man with a special vision of this world , man who know the truth about it , it s why he sold it and he got away from it , to his own world , i really loved this song and i think that kurt is the bets one who sang this title with his feeling , and he did it , he sold our world in 1994 , and we miss him .
  • George from Bournemouth, EnglandBased on the Robert A. Heinlein story Requiem and its prequel The Man Who Sold The World, both written in 1950.
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiTo me, this seems to be about someone who drifted off away from society into his own little world somehow and now wants to return to "the real world." By saying that he "never lost control", he's saying that he's made conscious decisions about his life all along. When he decided to return to society, he sold his "world".
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiI definitely prefer Bowie's version over Nirvana's. Some would say that Nirvana's stripped-down version sounds more "intimate", but I just found it dry and bland compared to Bowie's version. I heard Nirvana's version before hearing Bowie's version, and I found that the mellotron really added to it.
  • Eric from Lake Fores, CaJust my .02. I think both versions are valid. Bowie's can sound a little dated, but I think the main difference is the intmacy achieved with the acoustic Nirvana version. I wasn't aware of Jordis Unga, but I think she's great. BTW, I used to perform the Nirvana version doing coffee gigs, and those lyrics were hard to figure out. It didn't help that the Bowie ones were different...aargh. Awesome, underrated song.
  • Nezir from Travnik, BosniaI see this song as the dialogue between the image we create in public and for which we believe is the true ourself (in the song denoted as He) and real, internal ourself created probably in our childhood (in song denoted as I) . That He, usually thinks is the same as I (that is why the lyrics "We never lost control,Youre face to face,With the man who sold the world" in the second verse).That is of course an illusion (that is why the internal, real us says "He said I was his friend, which came as a surprise"). Real us is of course looking for a form to show up in the public image throughout our lives(the whole third verse is just about that). And the difference between Bowie and Curt comes in the fourth verse. In Bowie version is after all We that never lost control (I assume he thinks that one can at least try to be as close to true ourself as one can be, shifting forms, but never being exactly that). On contrary Curt says it is an I that never lost the control, sounding like we can never be in our everyday lives what we really are (we forever betray our true nature). And for me, I am closer to Curts opinion. Sorry if I complicated things, but it is the way I feel this song, which is for me one of the best ever written in the popular music.
  • Updateddemon from Mexico City, MexicoIt's a pity that Bowie's alleged Nazi salute is stated as a fact, when Bowie himself has denied such thing a hundred times.
    As for the song, which is a great one, being a hardcore Bowie fan I've resignedly seen that most people know the song because of Nirvana (unfortunately in my country, Bowie is quite less known than Nirvana). It is a good rendition but no way better than the original, the rich instrumentation and Bowie's incredible voice make the song one of his best songs. However Nirvana's version is a more commercial one (Bowie has always been a bit unconventional, thanks god) and that is what helped its popularisation.
  • Perttu from Jyväskylä, FinlandIt's very thrilling song. I think the chorus has similar bass line/chord progression (VII/II-IV-mVI-VII-IV-mVII-majVII/majIV) than Cher's "I got you babe", don't know which came first. But they both have kind effect ending with melodic minor scale.
  • Obzcure from Auckland, New Zealandnirvana's cover isnt better for one reason. Kurt is actually desperately trying to sound like bowie the whole time but failing. thus kurt screwed up with this song. and i am more of a fan of nirvana than bowie so dont accuse me of being biased
  • Andrew from Adelaide, Australiaactually no savio,torronto,canada. sorry to say but kurt cobain really is dead , don't believe me go to www.findadeath.com and search kurt cobain it shows graphic images so parental advisory is advised to those 15 and under
  • Aj from Melbourne, AustraliaI find it amazing that a person can write a song with such meaning.kudos to david bowie.but kurt cobain did do a wonderful job covering it.
  • Ed Hallick from New York, NyActually I think the song is about religion and how it relates to independent thinking and how that is controlled by religion. In the first verse "the man" means any religious icon, whether it be Christ, Mohammed, Budda, etc ect... They are all men who "sold" the world on their ideas. Then at the last verse Bowie states that there are "millions" of religious icons, meaning everyone, but how we see someone as a religious icon all depends on control of that thought. This song is brilliant, and why this song is constantly attributed to Kurt Cobain is beyond me. Kurt Cobain never got even close to writing this good.
  • Louis Melville from London, EnglandI belive THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD is the story of the meeting of modern man and Christ.
  • Andrea from Senecaville, Ohok I've been listening to this song and I just can't stop wondering if it's possible about the novel Atlas Shrugged. The two are amazingly similar.... any thoughts????
  • Dylan from Abilene, TxJoey D is retarded how can you say nirvana did a better version than bowie, nirvana isint anything compared to david bowie
  • Joey D from Detroit, MiNirvana's verson is way better. Both the Acoustic and Electric versions.
  • Jamie from New York, Nydavid bowie wrote this song because he wanted water !!
  • Joey from Nowhere Land, Cayeah, kurt did a good job covering it..i listened to it on my friend's myspace...but you're right, david's is the best...and has a better voice.
    but usually the original artist or the version i hear first sounds better to me
  • Jackie from Virginia Beach, VaFor some reason, every time I hear this song, I'm reminded of "A Stranger in a Strange Land." I just can't get the connection out of my mind. If you've read the book, you might see the connection.



    Also, Kurdt, I like your thinking on the lyrics, and I'm going to have to listen with it in mind next time, though personally I'm not sure if Judas would be stuck with the Damned since he had to play his part - someone had to or else the story of betrayal would not be there. (limbo maybe, who knows?)
  • Ladystardust from Mexico, MexicoBowie's is the best, simply 'cause it's the original one, the first, and even Nirvana did a good job covering the song, it'll never be as good as Bowie's song. And also 'cause Bowie's has a better voice than Kurt Cobain.
  • Andrew from Haverhill, MaThe Psychoed

    By :Hughes Mearns (1875-1965)

    The other day, upon a stair,
    I met a man who wasn't there.
    He wasn't there again today;
    To his Glory let us pray.

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn't there.
    He's not been there a day or three,
    I think he's from the EAC!

    I asked another if he saw
    the little man, he answered "Naw."
    I've proved it true, I'm satisfied --
    he can't be seen! I haven't lied!
  • Flo from Toulouse, FranceYes, Nirvana cover is better.
  • Josh from Las Vegas, Nvafter searching long and hard, i found a clip of bowie performing this live on saturday night live. this is my favorite version of the song
  • Jono from Auckland, New Zealandgotta disagree vik, Nirvana's version is so much better. No disrespect to Bowie, he is a superior musician but i just love Cobain's performance. You can feel the roar emotion in his voice and the song sounds so good in acoustic. Bowie uses an echo effect for his vocals during the song and there is an annoying sound thru the chorus. Still good but you can't beat Nirvana's version, that skank jordis doesn't come close. Also, Nirvana unplugged in NY... a brilliant album.
  • Jeremy from Warren , RiThis is probably my top favorite Bowie album, it shows Bowie's darkside without being satanic.
  • Ruth from CheshirePeter fron Montreal - it's all very well saying that "Ziggy Stardust catches a glimpse of his former self," but Man Who Sold The World was released in 1970, 2 years before the Ziggy Stardust album was released
  • Vickie from Mexico City, MexicoPlease try to understand that Bowie's is the original song and it it grater, I don't mean to say that Nirvana's is not good, I think is great too! I dare myself to speculate about the meaning o the song; definetely the first thing that came into my mind was God, and when I listen it I think about that image in The Last Temptation of Christ, despite these realatios, I think that the man that sold the world was God; he sold it to us, but we have to pay the price of not having eternal earthly life.
  • Greg Hal from Tulsa, OkThere is no 'David Bowie' version. It's a David Bowie song!. All subsequent covers are versions of Bowie's song. Nirvana's sounds ok, but it's not nearly as rich as the original.
  • Richard from Lafayette, LaI heard Jordis' version of this when someone told me a Bowie song was covered on Rockstar INXS. Though Jordis did an excellent job, anyone saying her version comes anywhere close to Bowie's or even Nirvana's is a fool. The Ultravox version is worth checking out as well, it certainly has a moody feel to it.
  • Sara from Murphysboro, Il I first heard this song by Jordis and just loved it. Bowie and Nirvana's version are good also.
  • Kurdt from Q.c., OtherThe Man who sold the world could actually be Judas Iscariot , Cane , the Devil or a wandering lost soul.

    We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when - Judas & Jesus meet sometime in the future and discussed about the past and what happened. (They were friends once. remember?)
    Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend - although Judas was not up there in heaven(upstairs) he was surprised that Jesus still considers him as His friend.
    Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes:"I thought you died alone, a long long time ago" - Judas thought Jesus died alone in the past.
    Oh no, not me I never lost control You're face to face With the man who sold the world - not sure who spoke this.
    I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home - Judas goes back home to sheol/hell/limbo?. (not exactly sure why he laughed. maybe sarcastic or just let out a devilish laugh.)
    I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed - Judas was probably cursed to wander aimlessly in another dimension or in limbo looking
    for form and land (similar to cane's curse if u read the Bible).
    I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here We must have died along, a long long time ago - Judas looks at millions of tormented souls in hell or limbo
    and told them they are already dead along with him ( they must have thought theyre alive all along )
    Who knows? not me We never lost control You're face to face With the man who sold the world - Judas talking to the multitude and admitted he's the man who sold the world.

    Listen closely at bowie's version at the end of the song theres a kind of eerie back vocals. spooky. but it rocks.
    you can download it using winmx. but its hard to find. goodluck.
  • Tressia from Sydney, United StatesJordis sang The man who sold the world like it was her own. I would most definately buy her music
  • Terrie from San Francisco, CaWhen you google it you get: October 21 - Jingo and Jingoism, by Jingo!
    First, the word jingo came from the Basque word Jainko, meaning God, so the
    expression "by Jingo!" is the same as "by God!" Brewer's states that this term ...
    www.goatview.com/october21.htm - 7k - Cached - Similar pages
  • Terrie from San Francisco, CaI never heard Bowie's or Nirvana's version of this song. I never heard it before I heard Jordis Unga sing it on RockStar INXS, which caused me to search for the lyrics. I found a Bowie versiion that just happened to be the free song that day. I also found that on www.inxs.com, you can choose which week's performances you'd like to see again. I believe Jordis' version is Week 4. I also downloaded this as an mp3 file in iTunes on my Mac, for my own personal pleasure. I fell in love with this girl's voice. Especially in this song, it's even better if you listen really, really closely.
  • Yo from Mtl, CanadaI love Jordis version.

    Katherine, the lyrics for Bowie and Nirvana version are not the same... I search for the lyrics & chord and found many alternatives.

    1- "At all the millions here" (Bowie)
    2- "We walked a million hills" (Nirvana)
    3- "We walked a million years"
    4- "With multimillionaires"

    Also
    1- "We must have died along" (Bowie)
    2- "I must have died alone" (Nirvana)
    3- "I must have died along"

    And for the "I" vs "We":

    Bowie =
    "Oh no, not me
    I never lost control
    ...
    Who knows?
    Not me
    We never lost control
    ...
    Who knows?
    Not me
    We never lost control
    ..."

    Nirvana =
    "Oh no, not me
    We never lost control
    ...
    Who knows?
    Not me
    I never lost control
    ...
    Who knows?
    Not me
    We never lost control"

    Although I can confirm the lyrics from Bowie Saturday Night Live video and Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York video... I must say that I don't understand the song enough to give a verdict... :)

    But, I love Jordis version! :)

    - Yo, Mtl, Canada
  • Katherine from Auckland, New ZealandI love this song, I think Bowie and Nirvana's versions both rocked! I heard Jordis cover it on Rockstar INXS, you could feel the soul in her performance but I was totally gutted that (in her encore performance at least) she got the lyrics wrong, which actually changed the meaning of the song. For instance "I" instead of "we" instead of "all the millions here" she sang "we walked a million hills"? My vent for the day, thanks for reading.
  • Parker from Portland, OrParker from Portland is right. George Michael is the greatest male singer ever. Hands down. As for Dave saying to Jordis, "the greatest performance ever?" I, in no way can agree with that. George Michael could do that song. and it would be untouchable.
    So Parker, give me your email address and we can argue about it.
    Posey
  • Monica from Cs, Co
    I found this site while looking for a Jordis version of the song because she was awesome.

    It's an interesting read about the song because I always thought it was a dead person that didn't know they were dead (and their friend was too), searching for their friend until they realized they were both dead. Weird how we all read into things our own way.
  • Nick from Sacramento, Calook u guys are all wrong. its not about jesues its about moses. he was a prince who was about to be a king but instead he freed his poeple. HE is the man who sold the world.also after he got the ten commandments god told him to die alone.
  • Cbn from Fort Worth, TxLike most people I have been drawn to this song and found myself listening to it over and over again. I can not for the life of me get the song out of my head. Everyone's interpretations are very good. To me the man who sold the world can not (as much as I like the idea)be Jesus because he did not sell the world he bought it with his life. So I think the man who sold the world is God our Creator the only one with the authority to sell the world.
  • Mike from Pittsburgh, Pahard to pin down an exact meaning for a song like this. i think all of your interpretations are valuable, but it seems to me TMWSTW is a remarkably abstract song. i imagine bowie attaches a variety of meanings to it -- as evidenced by the sincerity with which he sings the parts of both 'characters' in the song: the wanderer and the man who sold the world.
  • Becca from Hamilton, CanadaWhy do people think that every single song is about drugs? Come on,David Bowie was and still is a very bright man. He would never write a song about drugs.
  • Mark from Hereford, EnglandThe first hit version in the UK was a cover by Lulu! Bowie can be heard on backing vocals, so I presume he produced it as well.
  • Parker from Portland, OrFirst off... The Nivana version sucks compared to the Jordis Unga version. She nailed it. Like Dave Navarro said, "that might be the greatest performance I have ever heard." I agree. Jordis might be the best singer I have ever heard. Before I listened to her, I thought George Michael, who certainly is hands down, the greatest male singer of all time. George Michael is flat out the greatest. If anyone wants to argue with me, I'm here. George Michael is the greatest singer we will ever hear.
  • Chrys from Spring, TxO.K. I am still not sure what the song is all about but, I do like reading the diffrent versions. I will say this, though David did the song first and great, Nirvana's was also good but, I could listen to Jordis's version over and over again..She had such feeling and emotion that it gave me chills.. I loved it..
  • Becky from Canada, CanadaI honestly think this song is about drugs, drugs abuse and what it does to your life. He walked along a stairs to meet up with his former self, although his former self is no longer around. And he's surprised how much he liked his former self but he is gone (dead a long time ago) And no I didn't lose control would be a kind of denial that they never did to much or wasn't an addict etc. The second verse could be about all the fun druggie trips he took. He laughed at the idea of hallucinating seeing himself, then he gazed a gazely stair would be him being stone..... then realizing that his old self died a long time ago but his old self and currents self didn't lose control they were only using recreationally or whatever you want to call it. And the man who sold the world could be code for drugs and the euphoric feels it gives you. Maybe I'm way off my rocker but that's how I see it.
  • Donnah from Dallas, TxThis song really struck my interest when first heard on Rockstar INXS. I had to download it & do a little research. After listening to it over & over again..............prior to reading the above comments & knowing none of its history. This is what I felt:

    Passing on the stairs I thought was a person going to heaven meeting Jesus. Jesus being "The Man who Sold the World"...also being a man who died alone & long ago. Speaking of "was & when" meaning that persons life.

    I took the part as "although I wasn't there" as even though this person may not have praised HIM, HE was your friend. Whether you were a Christian or not, the song made me think Jesus accepts people inspite of what they may have believed.

    This person not believing where they were "they laughed and shook his hand and made my way back home." "I searched for form & land for years and years I roamed"...............this to mean the person did not know where they were. Nothing being familiar.

    "I gazed a gazley stare at all the millions here"...........the person looking into the eyes of all the millions there. "We must have died a long, long time ago".

    Who knows? Not me.........................
  • Phillip from Santa Barbara, CaInteresting interpritations here.
    To me, the song is about a guy living the typical 9 to 5 life and meeting up with an old man/bum that hung around in the neighborhood and eventualy disapeared. He suddenly reappears and after exchanging sentiments he realised that the old man was content, while he was not. His "Searching" was for that same contentment. He then realizes that he was dead to the world becuase of his material pusuits. IE; Dying alone. The idea of "The Man who Sold the World" is one that gave up all things material and found bliss.
  • Thom from Boston, MaI believe this is about one person and appears to be about a suicide.

    One line reads, "Oh no, not me, I never lost control." At the end, it reads, "Oh no, not me, WE never lost control. You're face to face With the Man who Sold the World." In other words, the man who sold the world is himself.

    I'll guess that "we passed along the stair" is about the stairway to heaven or hell. This appears to be about a man remembering himself in the past (the man he passes is himself) and believing that he did not kill himself, was heading up to heaven. He is so convinced that he did not die from suicide, he splits himself into two people and is "surprised" that the man on the stair was his "friend." However, he does know that the man on the stair, a man that he is surprised to find out was his friend, DIED a long, long time ago. How would he know that if he doesn't know the man? In other words, "Hey, I thought you died but hey, I'm not you; I'm not that man."

    He laughs at the phrase, "You're face to face with the Man who sold the world," and continues on to heaven. Notice how it reads, "I searched for form and land." There is nothing around him except air and he's walking in nothingness. Ultimately, after many years he finds all the people who have committed suicide (in hell, I guess) and realizes that there are millions who died alone, just like him.

    But even to the end, when he realizes that the man on the stair was himself, he tries to convince himself that WE never lost control, even though he gave up everything.
  • Steven from Seattle, WaI'm more than a little sick of people saying, in various ways, that the Nirvana version is better. That's like saying someone's version of "Starry Starry Night" is better than Van Gogh's. Nirvana's cover was fantastic, a great tribute to David, and important, since it recognizes the past. But "It's David's song". By definition, noone can do it better. Besides, David's version os from a different time, and extraordinarily beautiful.

    Think before you speak, post, or whatever.
  • Drew from Great Falls, MtGreat song, although I think i prefer Nirvana's version to Bowie
  • Becca from Hamilton, CanadaThis is a GREAT song. Nirvana did a pretty good version of it. Although I prefer David's version.
  • Marcie from Austin, TxI love reading the different interpretations. I think this song is about an internal struggle. Did he sell his soul, did he not?
  • Barry from New York, NcI remember the original album art which featured weird cartoons on the front and back. The front featured a private eye type guy saying "THE MAN WHO $OLD THE WORLD." On the back are three people saying "OH BY JINGO." What does that supposed to mean?
  • Brian from Tulsa, OkIt's about a man who sold the world, in a manner of speaking, for his true personality and spiritual freedom. by no longer being caught up in petty jealousies, pursuit of lusts, and the other misc ways of this materialistic world, he gains a peace that surpasses understanding.
  • Mia from Wellston, MiI saw the mtv unplugged version with nirvana and it was great...this version is okay...
  • Danno from Sussex, EnglandGreat song, great cover by Nirvana...
  • Jon from Whittier, CaPersonally, I always figured this was about Bowie spontaneously remembering himself in the past, finding out just how much he's changed."We never lost control" means that although he's sold the world, he always had felt he was in control. After he changed he looked to come back home, to come back to his former self...only to find it as a surprise.

    That's my take, anyway. The Nirvana was good and it got me into Bowie, but it still isn't quite as good as the Bowie version.
  • Savio from Toronto, CanadaIn my opinion, this song is about a man who doesn't want to be famous or popular anymore and he's sick and tired of the people who admire and adore him and he wants to go away and start a new life. So he runs away, and sets up a scene as though he committed suicide and years and years later...one of his best friends finds him and is completely surprised because his friend thougt that "he died a long long time ago". And then he says, "Oh no, not me, I never lost control." He sold the entire world to a complete lie...a setup of a suicide/murder. That's why i think that it's possible that kurt cobain is still alive hiding somewhere.
  • Jena from Bonner Springs, KsI like both versions, but IMHO, Nirvana's cover of this is the best!
  • Lloyd from Cork, Irelandthe song in my opinion is bowie in a dream meeting the lucifer,he then makes some sort of deal with him and heads away;maybe for eternal youth?the song is timeless because of this hidden message,i think bowies fear of madness brought him frighting dreams which interpeted into lyrics which are deep in the subconsious,maybe thats why we all identify with them
  • Dexter from Cape Broyle, Canadathis is a great song, it sounds like it has something to do with somebody going crazy dont ya think
  • Ron from Springfield, NjThis entire album is Bowie does metal...and he proves he could do it as well as anyone. The introduction of Mick Ronson and the booming bass of bassit/producer Tony Visconti make this a must have album for all fans of hard rock.
  • Matt from Millbrae, Cathat guitar riff is one of the simplest but coolest riffs I've ever heard. and i have to disagree vince. nirvana's version of this was excellent, and even bowie himself said after he heard it he tried to contact kurt and collaborate with him.
  • Anita from Nyc, NyI agree with Janelle (are you the Janelle I think you are? Fancy meeting you on Bowie web-site! Gruess dich!)
  • Paul from TeddingtonOne of my favourite DB LPs but prefer the Lulu version from '74 were DB played sax & is more soulful
  • Kenny from Toronto, CanadaWhen Bowie did his Sound and Vision tour in 1990, he swore he would never play any of his old material, including this one, again. After hearing Nirvana's version and learning of Cobain's death, the Thin White Duke dusted it off and performed it live in 1995.
  • Vince from Florence, KyNirvana absolutely butchered this song.. the original is much, much better..
  • Steph from Ottawa, CanadaThis album was a flop, as Bowie had been written off as a one-hit wonder after 'Space Oddity' the year before. However, the next year's album 'Hunky Dory' (1971) was a smash hit, with hits like 'Changes' and 'Life on Mars'.
  • Brittny from Butler, InNirvana was famous for doing under-rated things.He didn't want to be famous which is why he was trying to leave the music industry when the "suicide" incident happened.
  • Saj from Tehran, IranOne of my most favorites songs
  • Brady from Fort Stockton, Txjanelle you're right, the nirvana cover absolutely ruled, tho i've never heard the bowie version.
  • Janelle from New York City, Nythe cover that nirvana did on unplugged was great! i really think is the most under-rated david bowie song!
  • Gary from Nashville, TnMidge Ure of Ultravox recorded his own version in 1985. It was included as an aditional track on the "If I Was" EP.
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