Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carole's Seminal Albums: #2 in an occasional series

This week it is David Bowie's 1970 (released in early 1971 in the UK) album The Man Who Sold The World




This album was where the blueprint for his later incarnation as Ziggy Stardust can first be seen, not least because it is where the nucleus of the Spiders From Mars first comes together.

The album was a real departure from what had come before as far as Bowie's music is concerned. The sound is heavy, riff powered and guitar driven, clearly taking hints from the burgeoning hard rock being played by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Edgar Broughton and others.

The subject matter of the material is dark; insanity, death, war and powerful outsider deities (derived from the works of H.P Lovecraft) predominate. Humanity takes a back seat here, notably in Saviour Machine, where an omnipotent computer decides to kill off the human race.

The Supermen is a very dark song, clearly linked directly to H.P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and also referring to the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. The riff was apparently one of Jimmy Page's, who "gave" it to Bowie when he was a session player on one of Bowie's 1960s songs I Pity The Fool.

The music on TMWSTW is dominated by the proto-metal guitar of the late Mick Ronson and was the second Bowie album produced by Tony Visconti, who also played bass on the album.

This album was notorious for its cover, featuring a very feminine David Bowie in a gorgeous long satin dress (designed by Michael Fish - who was not a weatherman - he also designed the shirts Jon Pertwee wore as Dr Who) and knee-high leather boots.

Later issues of the album had a more conventional cover, a black and white photo of Bowie looking far more like Ziggy.

Anyway, I believe that this album had an influence that defined the way music developed in the 1970s and beyond.

Bowie's exploration of the androgyny theme on the cover was a seminal influence on the beginning of the Glam movement in 70s rock, which in turn spawned Roxy Music, who along with Bowie were an important influence on the Bromley contingent who were instrumental to the beginning of Punk, especially in the careers of the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Musically, the album took metal styles and pushed them into the commercial arena, not necessarily with this album alone but also with Bowie's later work as Ziggy. It would be difficult to imagine Goth without this album too. The dark themes are really proto-Goth in a very major way.

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



7 comments:

Makinavaja said...

I love this album, Carole. It's one, given my age (8 in 1970), like the Velvets you posted last week, that I worked my way back to. This series is great. Thanks for sharing this with us. Looking forward to number three already!

Exodus said...

Like you Maki I worked my way back to this & also love it (I was 6 in 1970). Bought all Bowie's back catalogue between 1980 and 1982 and this album really grabbed me. Dark, raw and pretty scary. Changes, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane & Diamond Dogs were all bigger sellers but the raw material was all here. I'd argue it's somewhere in the family tree of punk/new wave in its roughness and the sheer brutality of the lyrics.

As Carole says it set the template for Ziggy & really for the next 5 years of Bowie's work.

It's an album I have to hear as an album, though, there's probably only a couple of tracks that I'd enjoy hearing in isolation - the title track & 'width...', maybe 'madmen'.

bethnoir said...

I love the lyrics to 'Width of a Circle' and the heaviness of the noisier tracks, 'She Shook Me Cold' mesmerised me as a young teen, dangerous and enchanting. I played it so much I still expect the song to jump where I had a scratch on my record. All that and then there's the beauty of All the Madmen...I agree, a wonderful album.

Bowie - the gift that keeps on giving :-)

ejaydee said...

That's one of the Bowie I don't own, so I'm looking forward to hearing it.
Thanks Carole.

gremlinfc said...

This is an album I discovered around the end of 1979 whilst trawling through Donny record Library for anything approaching interesting. I was 14 and '79 was a good year for Bowie coming back supposedly with the "Lodger" album and i'd loved "DJ" + "Boys Keep Swinging". I'd borrowed all his other albums so i thought i sort of knew what to expect from him BUT this was something else.
It's not theeee best album by a long chalk and some of it is downright ropey. However from the album cover to his incorporation of the idea of the "Ubermensch" , he showed a darker and maybe more meaningful and challenging side. Compared with later stuff like "Station to Station" and "Young Americans" (both of which I also love) this really gets to you , rather than seeks to just make you dance. Parts are quite haunting and the overall effect is of the line between genius and madness IMHO.
Seminal is the right phrase CB - along with the others in my life it helped shape me and my tastes.
Good shout.

Japanther said...

as Ejay, i've got a couple of Bowie albums, but this isn't one of them so am looking forward to it..

Exodus said...

I've always thought, mind you, that it works better thematically if you reverse side 1 & 2, so you start with 'Running Gun Blues' & end with 'After All'.