Is Nirvana’s take on David Bowie’s song ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ the most famous cover ever? Probably not. At least not while we still live in the same world where Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ and Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ exist.
However, Nirvana’s singular reworking of the Bowie classic was so powerful that most Nirvana fans at the time didn’t know it was a Starman song at all unless they listened to the full version of MTV Unplugged in New York
Cobain was a noted Bowie fan, having included The Man Who Sold the World album on his personal list of favourite albums later discovered in his journals. But apparently, his decision to play the album’s title track during the band’s Unplugged show had more to do with ex-Germs and then-current Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear’s fondness for the chameleonic star.
When Smear joined fellow former Nirvana member Dave Grohl in a jaunt around Bowie’s old Hollywood hangouts, the guitarist took credit for insisting on playing ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ during Unplugged. “We were sitting in Kurt’s living room going through his record collection,” Smear explained. “He said, ‘Let’s pick a cover song for the Unplugged thing.’ And he goes, ‘Let’s do a Bowie song because you love Bowie.'”
Smear’s devotion to Bowie has more than a decade old by the time he joined Nirvana.
Smear and his fellow Germs co-founder Darby Crash bonded over their shared love of the Thin White Duke and followed him around Los Angeles while Bowie was making Station to Station. The video below where he mentions how ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ came to be mainly featured Smear reminiscing about his fanaticism towards Bowie back in the ’70s.
“We’re going through it, and I see he has The Man Who Sold the World, and I go ‘Fuck! It’s gotta be off of this record! Definitely pick one from this record!’ And we settled on ‘The Man Who Sold the World.'”
Check out the video of Grohl and Smear trekking to Bowie spots in Los Angeles down below.