Released in the USA on this day in 1970, The Man Who Sold the World is the third studio album by David Bowie. Arranged by Mick Ronson and produced by Tony Visconti, the album was a departure from his previous acoustic style and embraced a more hard rock sound. The original cover art of the US release featured a cartoon-like cover drawing by Bowie's friend Michael J Weller and featured a cowboy in front of the Cane Hill mental asylum. Weller, whose friend was a patient there, suggested the idea after Bowie had asked him to create a design that would capture the music's foreboding tone. John Wayne was the inspiration for a cowboy figure wearing a ten-gallon hat and a rifle, which was meant as an allusion to the song "Running Gun Blues". Bowie suggested Weller incorporate the "exploding head" signature on the cowboy's hat, a feature he had previously used on his posters while a part of the Arts Lab. He also added an empty speech balloon for the cowboy figure, which was intended to have the line "roll up your sleeves and show us your arms"—a pun on record players, guns, and drug use—but Mercury found the idea too risqué and the balloon was left blank.
Bowie was enthusiastic about the finished design, but soon reconsidered the idea and had the art department at Phillips Records, a subsidiary of Mercury, enlist photographer Keith MacMillan to shoot an alternate cover. The shoot took place in a "domestic environment" of the Haddon Hall living room, where Bowie reclined on a chaise longue in a cream and blue satin "man's dress", an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The UK release of the album in April of 1971 would feature this cover instead.
Although album sales were not high enough to dent the charts in either country at the time, the album has since been cited as inspiring bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Nine Inch Nails. Even the late Kurt Cobain listed the album as one of his all-time favorites, and in 1993 Nirvana covered the title track for their MTV: Unplugged in New York performance.
Here's Bowie's legendary performance of the title track (alongside Joey Arias & Klaus Nomi) on Saturday Night Live in 1979