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 disagree with Michael's assessment that David Bowie's version is better. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Bowie hater (even though I've never really been a huge fan) and I always give credit where credit is due. The man is was an icon. Where this comparison is great is that Bowie faces the next generation's icons, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.
There are numerous covers of this song, but none in my opinion better than the Nirvana version in 1993 during MTV's Unplugged show of the band. Despite the show being an all acoustic version of band's music, Kurt Cobain hid a pedal underneath a makeshift pedal board box. This added to the distorted guitar lines that lead the song. I do not think the song would have had as much drive if it didn't feature this extra element of the song. Some have said that Cobain was anxious about his guitar playing abilities in an acoustic setting. I don't see this as a bad thing considering Cobain was generally paranoid and wanted to please those who attended the show.
While Michael stated that the cover didn't differ much from the original, is that what a good cover makes? In my opinion, the song should have the soul of the original (if you choose the right song) but with the personality of the covering band and seeing it through a slightly different lens. I've always thought the original was a bit cheeky and jovial, which I think takes away from the powerful lyrical story line. With Nirvana's version, the vocals are highlighted and help tell the story. The nice solo portion of the song makes it sound so much bigger and powerful than a band using almost entirely acoustic instruments. I think avoiding the vocal effects of the original version (while not necessarily unintentional, given the requirements for the set) makes the song much more relatable.
Even Bowie himself changed the way he played the song for several years, which happened to be after the Nirvana rendition. To me, this might have been Bowie's way of doing something different with the song after hearing what Nirvana did with it. It would have been interesting to hear Nirvana's version had it been in full studio, but I think the cover version was a perfect addition to Nirvana's catalogue that was on display during the show. Cobain was a huge fan of Bowie's so I certainly do not think he was trying to cause the issue that we are bringing up today. He was merely paying tribute to the idol and bringing the song into the next generation of music listeners. In fact, I would venture to say that Nirvana had a big part in this song maintaining the popularity it still enjoys today. Give the tune a listen and let us know what you think.