- This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
- Big space, breathy vocals, grungy guitars and plenty of Ken Scott’s luscious Tubey Magic makes this album a true audiophile treat
- As it says on the back of the jacket, “Many thanks to our engineer Ken (Scott, one of our favorites).”
- 4 1/2 stars: “Working with guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti for the first time, Bowie developed a tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen.”
*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 8 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, The Width Of A Circle. On side two, a mark makes 16 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Running Gun Blues.
The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits (and us audiophiles) like it. The tube compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.
Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully rich and grungy. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track on side one (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point. Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track on side two — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.
Note that the second track on the second side seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive.
This vintage RCA pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the Best Sides of The Man Who Sold The World Have to Offer is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Over the next three years Bowie would go on to record Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972) and Aladdin Sane (1973). Not many bands can produce three records in a row of such staggering artistry, four if you count this one. All belong in any serious music collection, and all of them are very hard to come by with good sound. We have a hard time finding them, and we do this for a living.
What We’re Listening For on The Man Who Sold The World
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Ken Scott, Engineering Genius
The amazing KEN SCOTT (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century (all Top 100), as well as All Things Must Pass, Truth, Birds of Fire, Son Of Schmilsson, America’s debut and many more is the man responsible for the sound here. It should go without saying that this is one seriously talented guy! (He also co-produced the album.)
The kind of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness that he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, not to mention sound that is remarkably spacious and practically free from distortion — qualities that are especially important to us Big Speaker guys who like to play their records good and loud –has rarely been equaled by anyone in the years that have followed (even by Ken).
As noted above, many of his best recordings can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums, limited to the titles that we can actually find copies of to do our Hot Stamper shootouts.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Ken speak at an AES meeting here in Los Angeles. I won’t bore you by trying to recap his talk, but if it ever comes out on youtube or the like, you should definitely check it out. The Behind-The-Scenes discussion of these artists and their recordings was a thrill for someone like me who has been playing and enjoying the hell out of most of his albums for more than forty years.
The Width of a Circle
All the Madmen
Black Country Rock
Running Gun Blues
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold the World
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Even though it contained no hits, The Man Who Sold the World, for most intents and purposes, is the beginning of David Bowie’s classic period. Working with guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti for the first time, Bowie developed a tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen… there’s an unsettling edge to the band’s performance, which makes the record one of Bowie’s best albums