The Bowie Bet part 3 – The Man Who Sold His Trousers

Bowie The Man Who Sold The World Dress Cover

The story so far: I have bet my friend Chris that I can buy a full set of Bowie‘s albums (in their original vinyl and in excellent condition with all the inserts) from The Man Who Sold The World to Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). That’s fourteen albums in fourteen days. Total budget: £100. The loser has a heavy penalty: to buy drinks – and wear a Westlife T-shirt for a day.

Part One of this story is here

Part Two of this story is here.

I called Chris to let him know Manchester hadn’t been a lucky town for me.

“Good” was his brief, yet sympathetic verdict.

The conversation moved on to Bowie’s first album of the seventies – “The Man Who Sold The World”.

Chris sounded amused, so I knew something was up.

“Did you know that the first UK pressing of The Man Who Sold The World is er, not overly cheap?” he asked with all the innocence of an escaped convict found climbing half-way through a window at midnight.

“I don’t know about that – I think I have seen them for about a fiver.”

“Hmmm. You might want to check that… whilst I go shopping for a larger wine decanter and a Westlife T-Shirt. What size are you again?”

He can be quite insufferable at times.

Chris had rather irritatingly discovered that the first UK pressing of “The Man Who Sold The World” was a) very expensive and b) had a controversial cover: of Bowie draped louchely (if that’s a word) on a sofa wearing (of all things) a dress. Not a tight-fitting little black cocktail number, either. One that might have made a rather fetching pair of silk curtains. It would have struggled to flatter Twiggy. On Bowie it struggled even more. Perhaps a better title for the album would have been The Man Who Sold His Trousers.

We had agreed that First Pressings would be part of the bet. First pressings are most valued by collectors because a) Collectors are nerds, b) it sort of makes sense to get the first version of something and c) the first pressings are arguably better sounding: the first albums are minted when the stampers that press the vinyl are crisp, and hence the sound quality should be superior. This comes with the caveat that since most collectible vinyl is now 20 to 60 years old, the main sound consideration is now probably how the records were looked after in the years that have passed.

The story behind the dress is that it was one of six “men’s dresses” made by a Mr Fish of London, leader of the “peacock revolution” that Bowie purchased in 1970. Journalist Nick Kent described Bowie walking through New York airport immigration in one of the dresses in February 1971 as “looking for all the world like a young Lauren Bacall“. Given the aggressiveness of New York immigration officials even now, you have to admire Bowie’s cajones.

If that wasn’t enough, Bowie then travelled (wearing the dresses) across America – including a visit to that well-known forward-thinking liberal US state, Texas, in what might have ended up as a crazy suicide mission. Bowie later recalled “In Texas, one guy pulled a gun and called me a fag. But I thought the dress looked beautiful.”

Despite the controversial look of Bowie in a man-dress, and because of the scarcity of the record, which wasn’t a huge commercial success until it was re-released following the success of Ziggy Stardust, a new copy of “The Man Who Sold The World” in mint condition will cost a collector up to £500. I checked there and then – sure enough there was one on eBay for £400. If there’s a way of spending more money on a less pleasant photo I’d like to hear about it. Perhaps only a signed picture of Peter Beardsley standing next to Martin Keown, Wayne Rooney and Phil Neville would rival it. If they too were wearing dresses. I’m sure that wouldn’t cost £400 though…

This was Extremely Bad News. The thought of exceeding the budget by £400 on just one album filled me with horror. The Heath Robinson-esque financial part of the bet meant that if I went £400 over budget I would also have to buy Chris a £400 bottle of wine. Financial ruin stared me in the face. And then kneed me in the testicles.

However, a second version of “The Man Who Saved The World” was released in 1972 with a proto-Ziggy picture of Bowie in black and white. I had seen this “kicking cover” in used record shops for around a fiver and it was this that I had in mind for the bet. To learn it was not the original 1970 album, but a 1972 re-release was an unwelcome knock to an already stretched budget. I also discovered that even this album came with a lyric sheet and a poster – and a copy with the complete set might cost me £20 rather than £5. I had no intention of buying the £500 version.

David Bowie

Incidentally, this is not the most obscenely priced Bowie record around. This year, a Japanese copy of Bowie narrating the story of “Peter and The Wolf” (released in the 1970’s) fetched £9,002 on eBay.

It’s free on Spotify:

David Bowie Peter and the Wolf cover

I resolved I would have to buy the kicking cover at a sensible price and smooth-talk Chris into seeing sense. I wasn’t sure it was going to work…

Record # 164: David Bowie – All The Madmen





16 responses to “The Bowie Bet part 3 – The Man Who Sold His Trousers”

  1. Life With The Top Down Avatar

    The song Man Who Sold The World is one of my favorites. I heard someone doing a cover and was surprised to find out it was a Bowie tune. Bowie’s version was so much better and it really resonated with me at the time. Thanks for this history about one of my favorites.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      You should check out Lulu’s version…


      1. Life With The Top Down Avatar

        First of all Lulu is beautiful and I did enjoy her version…more upbeat. It’s funny, but the cover I heard was also by an unknown female artist Jordis Unga.


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        I believe Bowie / Visconti were involved in Lulu’s version.


  2. Ronnie Hughes Avatar

    I remember the ‘dress’ cover disappearing fairly quickly. And then well before the Ziggy inspired re-release copies of an American import with a cartoon cowboy character carrying a rifle started turning up in Probe Records in Liverpool – – another possible target for you?


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Intriguing… I couldn’t possibly comment of course – but I like your thinking…


    2. Ramona Avatar

      I believe the original cover was in fact banned in America! The record with the cowboy was the ‘more acceptable’ American replacement! There is also a separate cover for Germany!


      1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Thanks for this – always good to see these alternative covers.


  3. The Byronic Man Avatar

    I’m rooting for you, and sympathetic to your plight… but I’m also stuck on the Texan pulling the gun. What, precisely, goes through someone’s brain when they do that? “The fella looks homosexual, and they are known to attack without provocation”?


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I can only imagine that Texas had a real social problem with rogue cross-dressers causing havoc everywhere. Because otherwise that would just make that guy a terrible, violent bigot…


  4. simonsometimessays Avatar

    The Man Who Sold the World. What a magic album – title track right up there with the best that Bowie has ever written. Easily worth £500 – but not of my own money, naturally.
    We have the original cassette of Peter and the Wolf, and the CD re-release. This gets played to the pupils in Mrs sss’s class, and the indoctrination of the generations thus proceeds.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      You can shoot me the day I pay £400 for a record. Re Peter and the Wolf: I like your style. Indoctrination at a young age is good. I was very proud of my son when at 3 years old his favourite song was “Changes”. I have added the Peter and The Wolf tracks as a spotify playlist, thus instantly saving each reader of Every Record Tells A Story £9,002. Now that’s value!


  5. Avatar

    I love Nirvana’s cover of the title track…


  6. Simon Avatar

    I think you’ve been stitched up by your mate. He’s obviously still smarting from listening to Maria Carey. Was this bet his idea and did he make it seem like your idea? I think he knew about the possibility of a first press costing upwards of 400 quid. Good luck anyway. No one deserves the donning of a Westlife T shirt!!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I think you could be right. But stay tuned…


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