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David Bowie recorded the original version of the classic rock song “The Man Who Sold the World” and Nirvana subsequently covered it. During an interview, Bowie made some critical comments about Nirvana. Bowie also revealed what he thought when fans mistakenly believed “The Man Who Sold the World” was originally a Nirvana song.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wearing a sweater
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana | Frank Micelotta Archive / Contributor

David Bowie said Nirvana weren’t as good as another American rock band from the same era

According to the book Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie, the “Space Oddity” singer criticized Nirvana. “I must say that I was disturbed to find out that the Pixies had broken up,” he said. “That was the band that I thought was gonna happen in a big way, and I was a bit miffed when Nirvana came along using the same musical dynamics.” Bowie noted that the Pixies’ songs and Nirvana’s songs had soft verses and loud choruses. He also felt the Pixies’ Black Francis was a better lyricist than Kurt Cobain.

What young fans mistakenly said about ‘The Man Who Sold the World’

Bowie also discussed performing his old hits at a festival. “I was quite overwhelmed to see so many people singing the songs,” he said. “And they were such a young crowd, younger than most of my fans. Some of my recent albums have been picked up by the ’90s generation, but then they don’t know the early stuff. I think it’s a surprise when they hear them all at once and think, ‘Did he write that?'”

Many American youths mistakenly believed “The Man Who Sold the World” was a Nirvana song that Bowie covered when it was a Bowie song that Nirvana covered. “I know that because, in America especially, when I do ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ the amount of kids that come up afterwards and say, ‘It’s cool you’re doing a Nirvana song,'” Bowie said. “And I think, ‘F*** you, you little tosser!'”


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The way the world reacted to David Bowie’s and Nirvana’s versions of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’

Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” appeared on the album of the same name. Bowie never released the song as a single so it never charted on the Billboard Hot 100; however, its parent album became a minor hit. The Man Who Sold the World reached No. 105 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 23 weeks.

Nirvana never released its version of “The Man Who Sold the World” as a single. Nirvana’s cover of the song appears on the live album MTV Unplugged in New York. MTV Unplugged in New York reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and lasted on the chart for 100 weeks. None of Nirvana’s other albums stayed on the chart longer except for Nevermind. Bowie wrote “The Man Who Sold the World;” however, Nirvana’s cover appeared on a more popular album.