7 of the Best David Bowie Covers for “The Man Who Sold The World”

It’s a testament to the brilliance of David Bowie and his music that he’s constantly being covered by other artists. Whatever your favorite track might be — there’s a good chance there are already multiple covers of it. For those who have such a special place in their heart for Bowie’s iconic song “The Man Who Sold The World,” (released on Nov. 4, 1970) you’re in for a treat. With the beloved artist’s birthday coming up on Jan. 8 (and also the anniversary of his death just two days later), we are taking a look at some of the best covers of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.”

This feature was produced by Sandra Burciaga Olinger and written by Steven Ward


7. Rhoda Dakar 

It’s all about ska with this cover of “The Man Who Sold The World,” as Rhoda Dakar (lead singer of Bodysnatchers and Specials A.K.A.) transforms the song into a funky rework of brassy horns and jittery rhythms. One of the reasons the original is so hauntingly sublime in the first place is the way Bowie layers such a jovial melody over such bitterly melancholic lyrics. But Dakar’s version takes it to another level with those jaunty staccato notes and buoyant instrumentals so inherent to ska. It’s a reminder also of how much Bowie’s music can be timelessly translated into other genres. And that final blaring solo that finishes it all off — not to mention Dakar’s sonorous wails — makes it one of the top covers of this classic.


6. Rockabye Baby!

If you’re not familiar with Rockabye Baby! prepare to become obsessed. A collective of musicians based in Silver Lake (Los Angeles) devoted to transforming a genre-spanning wealth of music into soothing instrumental lullabies made for babies — but absolutely enjoyable by all. The beauty here is in the stunning simplicity with which these musicians have reimagined the song as this dreamy, xylophone-ringing medley of equally whimsical percussion. Whether you’re looking for ways to get your kids hooked on Bowie or just looking for a version without lyrics, look no further than this cover of “The Man Who Sold The World.”

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5. Lulu 

Lulu recorded this version of “The Man Who Sold The World” with Bowie as a producer back in 1974 — and actually helped garner appreciation for his original. Between its blaring backing saxophone, that faint echo of moody guitars, and a thrumming backbeat the cover is infused with the kind of blue-eyed soul the singer was known for at the time. In a lot of ways (probably owed to the fact Bowie produced the track) this version feels almost like a B-side to the original track that’s made all the more invigorating by Lulu’s vocals.


4. Transviolet

California-based electropop outfit Transviolet gives the song the atmospheric treatment with their cover of “The Man Who Sold The World.” Led by the somber and engrossing cries of lead singer Sarah McTaggart this rework starts small, wavering into existence via her piercing vocals as the shuddering wave of sound surrounding it starts to grow. It’s the climax of this cover that really gets you, a triumphant clamor that tries to swallow McTaggart’s blissfully melancholic voice.

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3. Emel

Tunisian multi-hyphenate Emel strips away all the instrumentation of the original to uncover the raw power of Bowie’s words in the song “The Man Who Sold The World.” Which comes rather easily to a voice as strident and beautiful as Emel’s. Elongating the song into a ballad assisted by some solitary tones to accentuate the singer’s stratospheric coos. Though it’s the last minute of this version that will truly break your heart, filled as it is with the fading but clarion cries of Emel.

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2. Torii Wolf

Another recent cover “The Man Who Sold The World,” this time from the raspy-voiced Los Angeles artist Torii Wolf created alongside producer FWD The Man. This version of the song takes a paced approach, opening with just Wolf’s trilling vocals before they’re joined by the oscillating movements of industrial-minded sonics. It’s a cover that taps into the song’s anxiety-laden underbelly — masked by the upbeat melodies of other versions — but in this one brought to the forefront in a manner as unsettling as it is ethereal.

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1. Nirvana

The most famous cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” is the rendition done by Nirvana on MTV Unplugged, which served as a whole new generation’s first introduction to the song. At the forefront is Kurt Cobain’s sweetly lamenting vocals, channeling all of Bowie’s existential dread in a way only he could. It’s also a version that decidedly contains a lot more guitar than the original, bringing those singed riffs to the foreground to grumble alongside Cobain’s twangy vocals. While the acoustic strums lift the entire song up into this slow-dancing dirge that ends appropriately with a fading guitar solo.

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Stream: All the Best Covers of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”

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