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Today we’re taking a look at some of the best covers of the classic Bowie song The Man Who Sold the World
. The song sees its 50th anniversary in 2020 & has been covered by many artists over the years. Bowie performed the song live throughout his career & although it didn’t make much of a dent when 1st released it has since developed a new lease of life & more recently was featured in the popular 2015 video game “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” bringing the song to increasingly broader audiences.
Amongst some of the musicians/acts who have covered it to date are Nirvana, Midge Ure, Lulu, Simple Minds, Michael Stipe, Bubbles. Before we get to those, let’s remind ourselves what the original sounds like so you can better compare.
David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
The song is from the 1970 David Bowie album of the same name. Bowie told BBC Radio 1 in 1997 on the meaning of the song “That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.”.
Onto the covers. Each brings something unique to the song while remaining respectful of the original.
1. Nirvana (1993)
The most famous of the Covers of this song. Kurt Cobain the lead singer of Nirvana put the Bowie album containing this song in his top 50 favourite albums. Nirvana covered the song for an unplugged session for MTV in 1993 & an album of that session titled Unplugged In New York was released the next year.
Although there was nothing particularly unique about the cover Cobain’s vocals & his delivery of the main riff on his electro acoustic are quite profound & the somewhat guitar solo he added near the end positively adds to the original. Bowie was blown away when he discovered Kurt liked his work & praised the cover. Nirvana’s cover was so big that Bowie was even praised by fans at Bowie concerts for covering a Nirvana song when he himself performed his own song!
2. Midge Ure (1982)
James “Midge” Ure OBE is a Scottish musician most famous for his work with the band Ultravox. In the 70s he turned down the role as lead singer of the Sex Pistols
. He also did a stint with the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy around 1980. This cover sees a Synth pop rework with the main riff of the song being played on keyboard & the backing vocals of the original moved to keyboard.
The song was later remixed & re-released in 1985 & can be found as a bonus track on the Deluxe version of his 1985 album The Gift.
3. Lulu (1974)
Lulu is a Scottish singer-songwriter with a career spanning more than 50 years. First off it should be mentioned that David Bowie & his backing band were involved in this cover. Bowie played Saxophone & sang backing vocals & also produced the song. It was Bowie’s idea to get Lulu to sing the song & although she didn’t think her voice was well suited & didn’t really understand what the song was about agreed because she thought it was a strong song. The song can be found on her Greatest Hits release.
4. Simple Minds (2001)
Simple Minds are a Scottish rock band formed in Glasgow in 1977 & still going today. Best known for their 1985 song Don’t You (Forget About Me)
. This cover appeared on a cover album the band did called Neon Lights in 2001. The album was the 1st time the band had recorded an album of non-original material. The song starts out pretty true to the original but then shifts into 60s vintage inspired organs. A very solid cover.
5. Michael Stipe (2016)
You may have noticed that the previous 3 covers were from Scottish artists & I swear it’s not deliberate! Michael Stipe is/was the lead singer of the alternative rock band R.E.M for 31 years between 1980–2011. Stipe performed the cover on the Tonight Show with Jimmy fallon with a pianist providing the somewhat excitable playing to his smoothly delivered vocals. No video here but there is a video of the performance
available but the audio is really low.
6. Bubbles (2016)
Bubbles, real name Mike Smith is a Canadian actor & musician (The rock band Sandbox & performances with Guns N’ Roses
on multiple occasions) but most famous for playing Bubbles on TV series Trailer Park Boys
. This cover & video are presented in the same vein as his famous TV Character. The video shows a 5 member group with all members & instruments played by Bubbles. On the surface it looks like a bit of a parody or joke but it’s a pretty solid cover.
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