It is time for our Sunday piece, Presented with Comment, where each week Michael and Nicholas La Torre take a turn engaging in a debate over alt topics of interest and gauging the audience's views on the issues at hand. To do this, the authors will present examples to support their opinions and not only get the audience's view on the two sides presented, but seek feedback from the audience on alternatives as well.
This week we are asking the question of which is the better version of "The Man Who Sold the World", David Bowie or Nirvana? I believe the answer is definitively the man who originally wrote the song, the iconic David Bowie. Now don't get me wrong, I like the Nirvana cover and I'm no Nirvana hater (it just always seems I get the anti-Nirvana positions in these things).
Bowie's original begins with the signature guitar line that virtually every cover version has never deviated from. The riff is present throughout the track and ties the song together. Bowie's effects laden vocals fit so well with this track. Bowie's lyrics in "The Man Who Sold the World" are downright masterful. The song is said to be written about a narrator who encounters his doppelganger. In essence the song is a surreal track, like so many of of David Bowie's great songs.
I believe that Bowie's version of "The Man Who Sold the World" is the best because I feel that covers can only supersede an original when they fundamentally do something different or better than the original. I feel that Nirvana's version of the song does neither. The guitar line is the same, the melody is the same, and the vocal cadence is pretty much the same as well. Virtually the only difference in the tracks is the lack of vocal effects in the Nirvana track.
Some may feel that the track is better without the vocal effects. I disagree. The vocal effects fit thematically and stylistically. While we only have the live version of the Nirvana version, I thought it would be appropriate for me to include a live version of the original in this as well. Bowie was incomparable live and was fantastic on this one as well. Give it a listen, perhaps checking out the original recording and the live version will sway you to the Bowie side of the argument as well.