In this episode we continue to tell the story behind the writing and recording of David Bowie’s third album The Man Who Sold the World, which was released in America 50 years ago – November 4, 1970.
Early in 1971, several weeks after the album’s release in America there was zero interest from radio stations or record stores, but Ron Oberman a Mercury publicist based in Chicago convinced Defries to arrange for David to visit the US for a short promotional tour, beginning on January 23rd.
Ron’s brother Michael wrote a music column for the Washington Star newspaper and had been enthusiastic about David’s music since 1968. The brother’s began David’s tour with a visit to their parent’s home. In the picture David is holding the Oberman’s father’s business card, not a joint as some have suggested over the years!
Over the next few days Ron accompanied David to meet with several counter culture music journalists and radio DJ’s in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and New York. While in NYC David went to see The Velvet Underground. This was the visit where David thought he was talking with Lou Reed, but Lou had left the band several months earlier and DB had spent 10 minutes talking to Lou’s replacement Doug Yule.
When visiting Texas David was verbally abused by a local redneck who didn’t appreciate his androgynous attire. Here’s how journalist Michael Watts described the incident in a profile piece he wrote about David in 1972.
On February 10, David flew to San Francisco to meet Rolling Stone journalist John Mendelsohn who accompanied David on the rest of the tour and wrote an article titled David Bowie? Pantomime Rock? which was very influential at the time.
David photographed by Rolling Stone journalist John Mendelsohn while in San Francisco. It was on a radio station visit with John that David first heard The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog.
When Bowie and Mendelsohn arrived in L.A. they were met by Rodney Bingenheimer who was the Mercury publicist for California. Rodney was another early supporter of David. Over the next few years he was key to getting the message about David’s talents to media outlets.
David stayed with record executive Tony Ayres in LA and used his home recording gear to put down a demo of Moonage Daydream. David first mentioned the Ziggy Stardust character at Ayre’s house.
David didn’t have a working visa so he couldn’t perform publicly. The only gig he played on this tour was at a house party wearing the blue version of his Mr Fish dress. He performed All The Madmen, Space Oddity, Amsterdam and Hang on To Yourself.
David returned to London on February 18 where his publisher, Bob Grace at Chrysalis, was keen to get him to record some of his new songs. David was still under contract to Mercury so any vocals he recorded would belong to them. So he created a side project for his friend Freddie Burretti called The Arnold Corns a forerunner of the Ziggy idea. David decided to use Freddie as the lead singer.
On February 25 The Arnold Corns recorded Moonage Dream and Hang On To Yourself as a single. The songs were underwhelming to say the least because although Freddie had the looks, he didn’t have the voice. Bowie decided Freddie should be Rudi Valentino and in press interviews proclaimed , “The Arnold Corns will be the next Rolling Stones”.
Freddie and David were photographed by Brian Ward for the cover of Curious magazine. The inside story featured Freddie holding a boa constrictor, which David often said was the origin of Alice Cooper’s snake act. Alice commented later ‘that’s bollocks’.
On March 26, Peter Noone, famous as the lead singer for Herman’s Hermits at the time recorded a version of Oh You Pretty Things, which was produced by mega hit maker Mickie Most. The song was released on April 30, Peter performed it on Top of the Pops on June 10 and the song peaked in the charts at number 12.
On April 10 Mercury finally released the UK version of The Man Who Sold The World, which featured David’s preferred cover photo of him in the Mr Fish dress. The cover was printed on textured stock to simulate a painting.
To promote the new album the Mercury publicity team arranged a photo shoot for the Daily Mirror, with David in the infamous man dress, which accompanied the article titled ‘Dressed for Bowie Life’.
Several years later MainMan re-released TMWSTW on RCA bringing those songs to a new audience on the strength of Ziggy’s popularity. MainMan had been compiling a guest list over many years that would be invited to a party to celebrate Bowie’s success. So when David and Defries decided to retire Ziggy by performing the last ever live Ziggy show in July ’73 they used this guest list to throw the infamous party at the Cafe Royal that has become known as The Last Supper. David met Lulu at the party and asked her to record a cover version of The Man Who Sold The World with himself and Ronno.
On July 26 Lulu travelled to the Château d’Hérouville, Pontoise in France where David was recording the Pin Ups album. During a 2 day break from the LP sessions David and Ronno produced Lulu’s recording of TMWSTW, encouraging her to smoke heavily while in the studio to give her a voice a deeper timbre. Lulu’s version reached No.3 on the UK charts in 1974.