16 The Man Who Sold The World
From The Man Who Sold The World (April 1971)
The title track of Bowie’s third album, a cryptic sci-fi lyric but an unforgettable riff, covered by everyone from Lulu to Nirvana
LULU: 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 über-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.
15 Sound & Vision
From Low (January 1977); released as a single, February 1977
Highest UK chart position: 3; Highest US chart position: 69
A gleaming two-minute intro of Krautrock easy listening – featuring Mary Hopkin singing backup – leads into one of Bowie’s bleakest Berlin lyrics
ALEX KAPRANOS (Franz Ferdinand): We were asked to cover a song from 1977 [for the Radio 1: Established 1967 LP] and when I looked down the list, “Sound And Vision” jumped out as my favourite song of that year. I love it because it does what my favourite pop songs do: it’s out there, it’s unpredictable and does things you’d never heard in music. Yet it’s immediate at the same time. Because it takes so long for the vocals to come in, the pattern of the melody is so unpredictable and takes so long to evolve, and the fact it fades out at a bizarre point, you immediately want to put it on again. You feel like the song is playing for eternity in some other universe. It’s like you caught a snippet of something that will always be playing. And that’s not really like a standard pop song. There’s no start, middle and finish.
I grew up listening to Bowie. It’s one of the few things you inherit from your parents, something with edge. I’ve met him a couple of times at our gigs, which is always a little disconcerting. I remember him looking at the setlist and saying, “Oh good, you’re doing ‘Evil And A Heathen’. I’m looking forward to that one.”