Mott the Hoople
Reviewed on this page:
Wildlife - Original Mixed Up Kids -
All The Young Dudes - Mott - The Hoople -
Ian Hunter - You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic
Glam rock isn't taken very seriously these days. David Bowie, its greatest exponent, came from elsewhere and went on to different things; and the other key figures were campy media mongers like T. Rex and Gary Glitter. But at least one glam rock act had a genuine talent for creating hummable, wonderfully self-mocking rock 'n' roll anthems: Mott the Hoople. Frontman Ian Hunter's rambling, Dylan-influenced commentaries on his youthful followers' hedonistic lifestyle were balanced by guitarist Mick Ralphs' thunderous, compact rock tunes, and the whole campy, self-referential silliness of it all was plenty of fun while it lasted.
Alas, Ralphs quit the band while it was still big news in 1974, and immediately joined ex-Free vocalist Paul Rodgers in the even more successful corporate rock group Bad Company. The mortally wounded Mott stumbled through a couple more albums and watched the glam fad fade. So ironically, the band's peak - which started in 1972 with their Bowie-produced and written hit single "All The Young Dudes" - was briefer than their initial climb to fame, which took them through not one, but four flop albums.
Hunter soon quit himself, and a mock "Mott" populated by the rhythm section and some hired guns continued for a couple more albums and then vaporized. But Hunter went on to record a series of critically acknowledged solo albums, mostly working with Bowie's former guitarist Mick Ronson, who had had a hand in producing Mott's better work. Although Ronson died in the early 90s, Hunter and Bad Company are still around. I'll try to fill in the story on all these loose threads as I go along.
There's not a heck of a lot about Mott on the web; the best fan site I've seen is Just a Buzz Online, which has a very detailed news section. (JA)
Verden Allen (organ), "Buffin" Griffin (drums, backing vocals), Ian Hunter (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Mick Ralphs (guitar, some keyboards, lead vocals), Overend Watts (bass). Allen left, 1971 or 1972. Ralphs left, replaced by Ariel Bender (lead guitar, vocals) and Morgan Fisher (keyboards), late 1973. Hunter left, late 1974.
Mott The Hoople (1969)
There's a cover here of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me"; "Rock And Roll Queen" was their first single. (JA)
Mad Shadows (1970)
Mostly written by Hunter, although Ralphs gets in a couple tunes ("Thunderbuck Ram"); the swaggering "Walkin' With A Mountain" ranks with their catchiest compositions. (JA)
For anyone who knows Mott from its glam rock glory days, the two big surprises here are the quiet, down-tempo arrangements and Mick Ralphs' prominent role. Ralphs sings lead on all four of his contributions, with his steady, smooth high tenor sounding quite professional.
And at this point, his stuff is much more accessible than Hunter's; "Whisky Women" and "Home Is Where I Want To Be" sound exactly like Dave Mason's jangly pop-rock anthems.
Hunter, meanwhile, has worked out his melancholy ballad thing, but hasn't worked in any humor or energy just yet; "Original Mixed Up Kid" has some placid tunefulness, but when he goes with a sweeping string arrangement on "Waterlow," it's super-sweet and boring.
Meanwhile, on Ralphs' "It Must Be Love" they deliver lively, enjoyably harmonized country-rock a la Poco, with Jerry Hogan on pedal steel; and on "Lay Down," they go with the big-band, gospel-influenced style of contemporary British R & B acts like Joe Cocker.
So practically the only clue that these guys are grungy rockers is the hyped-up, ten-minute, album-closing live roots rock medley (Little Richard's "Keep A'Knockin'"; Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On"; Ray Charles' "What'd I Say"), complete with call-and-response interlude and rambling Hunter monologue.
There's nothing particularly exciting or groundbreaking in any of this, but at least it's entertaining.
Produced by the band. (JA)
Original Mixed Up Kids (rec. 1970 - 1971, rel. 1997)
A compilation of BBC tracks mostly drawn from their last two and following LPs.
Six tunes are from a single live concert, and they make a reasonable case that the group was even harder-hitting in its early days than after its big commercial break in 1972 ("Death May Be Your Santa Claus (How Long)," with the same chugging rock 'n' roll formula they recycled on such tunes as "All The Way From Memphis").
Verden Allen's bleating Hammond organ parts are surprisingly prominent, and Ralphs gets in some enthusiastic soloing (the overcharged, Chuck Berry-influenced "The Moon Upstairs").
Unfortunately, three songs are repeated in studio and live versions ("Whiskey Women"; the druggy, Byrds-style folk-rocker "Darkness Darkness"; "The Moon Upstairs"), so there's a total of just eight distinct compositions.
Still, though, this is some of their best early-period material, contrasting Ralphs' solid hard rock instincts (the head-banging "Whiskey Women"; the 1967-era Cream-like "Thunderbuck Ram") with Hunter's melancholy introspection ("The Journey"; the sweet country-western ballad "The Original Mixed Up Kid"; "Your Own Backyard," a Dylanesque cover tune with Ralphs on slide guitar). (JA)
Brain Capers (1972)
Their haunting rearrangment of the Youngbloods' "Darkness Darkness" appears here, as does Hunter's mellow sing-along "The Journey."
A flop like the earlier discs, and afterwards the band briefly gave up before Bowie ushered them into the studio to record "All The Young Dudes." (JA)
All The Young Dudes (1972)
At this point David Bowie had become a megastar and decided to prove his multifaceted talents by producing other acts like Lou Reed (not coincidentally, the record kicks off with a solid cover of Reed's classic "Sweet Jane").
For Mott, the favor made all the difference. Bowie not only pushed them towards his own, energetic glam rock formula ("Momma's Little Jewel"; Allen's flakey "Soft Ground"), but added sax parts and even backup vocals to many of the recordings, and wrote the key hit song (title track).
"All The Young Dudes" is not just the band's greatest moment, but arguably the most memorable hit of the whole glam-rock era, with Bowie's rebellious lyrics making it an early 70s teenage anthem.
And there's yet another classic here: Ralphs' spotlight "Ready For Love," a leaden and repetitive, but catchy and uplifting rock song that became a blueprint for his later work with Bad Company (and was even re-recorded by them).
Elsewhere everything is solid, almost always avoiding the self-absorbed, dissolute balladry that weakens their other records. There is one marginal orchestrated number ("Sea Diver," arranged by Ronson), but elsewhere they ride a plodding, riffy, giddy groove through one rocker after another - "Sucker," "Jerkin' Crocus," and "One Of The Boys" all rank with their best material.
Get your hands on this if you have any interest in the band. (JA)
Although you can hear glam rock's descent into self-parody throughout this record, it's still a good listen.
The easy, confident vibe is irresistable, and there are enough quality tunes and cheeky studio gimmicks to keep you interested.
Hunter's walking keyboard lines and Ralphs' blazing guitar play off each other brilliantly on the catchy "All The Way From Memphis," an over-the-top, sax-powered boogie workout.
They get mileage out of both their up-tempo Bowie-esque formula ("Whizz Kid") and their smiley-faced Dylan thing ("I Wish I Was Your Mother"), and there's even a jangly, California-flavored riff tune (Ralphs' vocal spotlight "I'm A Cadillac") and couple of flat-out rockers ("Violence"; "Drivin' Sister").
Still, there are some tediously pompous and self-absorbed stretches ("Hymn For The Dudes"; "Ballad Of Mott The Hoople"), and you can see why Hunter and Ralphs were about to go in different directions. Produced by the band; Andy Mackay is on sax, and Paul Buckmaster guests on cello.
By now an established act, Mott easily scored a series of hit singles in Britain this year but had no success in the US, where they had truly been a flash in the pan. The A-sides on the album are "All The Way From Memphis" and the very similar-sounding "Honaloochie Boogie." (JA)
The Hoople (1974)
At this point Ralphs quit to found Bad Company with Paul Rodgers.
So the remaining three members recruited new lead guitar and keyboard players, shifted Hunter to rhythm guitar, and jointly produced what amounted to an Ian Hunter solo album - everything is his apart from "Born Late '58," Watts' boogie-woogie ode to jail-bait.
Remarkably, their sound is exactly the same. Hunter not only delivers his characteristically rambling ballads ("Trudi's Song") and droll, overblown epics, complete with the usual honking sax and female backing vocals ("Marionette"), but a few stomping pomp-rockers like "Crash Street Kidds" and the somewhat flabbier "Roll Away The Stone" (a Ralphs-era leftover that was a British hit late in '73).
But with glam already fading, Hunter's stew of punning self-commentary, raving hedonism, and jokey, 50's-bound nostalgia seems stiff and pointless ("Pearl 'n' Roy (England)").
It all blows up in his face on the ridiculously overorchestrated "Through The Looking Glass."
There's nothing essential here, but the faithful will get more than a few of the usual kicks out of the proceedings.
Also features the group's last important hit in Britain, the campy, overblown "Golden Age Of Rock And Roll," but not two other singles released later in 1974: "Foxy Foxy" and "Saturday Gigs" (Ronson replaces Bender on the latter). (JA)
Mott The Hoople Live (1974)
I have this one, and it's solid despite the absence of Mick Ralphs. A lot of the material is from All The Young Dudes.
It ends with a lengthy, raving medley that's practically worth the price of admission by itself. (JA)
Drive On (1975)
For whatever reason, Ian Hunter now quit to start a solo career. And like a headless chicken, the band continued anyway - they of course had little commercial success. (JA)
Ian Hunter (Hunter: 1975)
Hunter didn't miss a beat with his solo debut: his new rhythm section sounded the same as Mott's (Geoff Appleby on bass, Dennis Elliott on drums), and he wisely collaborated more closely than ever with crafty guitarist/co-producer Mick Ronson, who decided not to mess with the grand old Bowie/Mott formula apart from ditching silly ornaments like the saxophone.
Indeed, they entirely capture the spirit of glam on not one, but several key numbers: the strutting "Lounge Lizard," the joyful, manic power-pop tune "I Get So Excited," and Hunter's sneering, off-kilter British hit single "Once Bitten Twice Shy," which builds up from a generic Chuck Berry riff to an irresistable mantra.
The rest is respectable and somewhat varied: Bowie-like, mid-tempo blues rock ("Who Do You Love"); sludgy, plodding funk ("The Truth..."); even a gentle, solo acoustic number ("3,000 Miles From Here").
There are some embarassing indulgences like Hunter's pompous poetry reading ("Shades Off"), which mars the fade of his otherwise masterful, cathartic anthem "It Ain't Easy When You Fall"; and "Boy," which stumbles along for eight minutes with strings, church bells, and a repetitive melody.
But on balance, there's more unadulterated rock 'n' roll hedonism here than you'll find on almost any other record from this era. (JA)
Shouting And Pointing (1976)
The second and last record by the post-Hunter, post-Ralphs lineup. (JA)
All American Alien Boy (Hunter: 1976)
Ronson is absent, Chris Stainton is on keyboards, and Queen makes a guest appearance. (JA)
Overnight Angels (Hunter: 1977)
A quickly recorded flop album that was never released in the US, and I've never seen it. (JA)
In 1978 Hunter and Ronson cut an unreleased album with the Mountain rhythm section of Felix Pappalardi and Corky Laing.
A version has since been released under the title The Secret Sessions, but I've never seen it. (JA)
You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (Hunter: 1979)
Co-produced by Ronson and featuring plenty of his guitar work, this self-confident and straightforward effort occasionally touches base with Mott's glam rock formula (the quirky sock hop anthem "Life After Death"), but mostly just delivers generic, entertaining AOR.
"Cleveland Rocks" is one of Hunter's most engaging and commercial rockers, with a pounding piano line, blistering lead guitar, and heavily repeated refrain.
He also comes up with several more irresistably swaggering boogie singalongs (the sax-driven "Wild East"; "Just Another Night," co-written by Ronson - Hunter wrote everything else alone).
There's nothing very special going on, and the ballads are uneven - "Ships" is drowned with churchy backing vocals and organ; the slowly-building, gospel-influenced testimonial "Standin' In My Light" is repetitive; and the stately piano ballad "The Outsider" is catchy but bombastic.
There's also an unwise flirtation with disco beats and flashy New Wave cool ("When The Daylight Comes," which sounds eerily like John Cougar's breakthrough hit "I Need A Lover" from the same year).
But the longwinded, funky disco vamp "Bastard," with John Cale on keyboards, is plenty of fun;
everything's solidly crafted; and the backing musicians are flawless - a core group drawn from Springsteen's E Street Band (Roy Bittan, keyboards; Gary Tallent, bass; Max Weinberg, drums), plus sax players Lew Delgatto and George Young.
Short Back And Sides (Hunter: 1981)
Clash guitarist Mick Jones produced this one. (JA)
All Of The Good Ones Are Taken (Hunter: 1983)
I don't really know much about this other than that Ronson appears only as a guest. (JA)
Y U I Orta (Ian Hunter/Mick Ronson: 1990)
I have this one, and it's a remarkably retro rock record that sounds like it could have been recorded ten years earlier. Mostly entertaining and probably a good buy for fans. (JA)
Dirty Laundry (Ian Hunter: 1995)
With Ronson dead, Hunter teamed up with a five-man, no-name studio band and cut a minor-label CD, working mostly in Norway.
Hunter apparently saw the project as a collaboration instead of a solo record, half the tunes were written and sung by the two guitarists and keyboard player, and others were written in collaboration with them.
I happen to have a copy and it sounds like more of the same Rolling Stones-inspired hard rock that characterizes his solo records. (JA)
The Artful Dodger (Ian Hunter: 1997)
Another record cut in Norway (and released a bit earlier there). This one apparently a proper solo album instead of a band effort. (JA)
Missing In Action (Ian Hunter: 2000)
A two-CD compilation of live tracks. (JA)
Rant (Ian Hunter: 2001)
An attempted comeback album; I have it and it's actually pretty good, with high production values, entertainingly sarcastic lyrics, and some reasonable stylistic variety despite a very firm grounding in his usual boogie-meets-Dylan approach. (JA)