Monday, 31 August 2020

Mott The Hoople




"If you make a revolution, make it for fun, don't make it in ghastly seriousness, don't do it in deadly earnest, do it for fun" - D.H. Lawrence

Mott The Hoople were my favourite band as a teenager in the mid seventies. It began for me with the "All The Young Dudes" single in 1972 and I stuck with them for the remaining just over two years of their rollercoaster career. These were their "glam" years", the years of "the suits and the platform boots" as referenced in their valedictory final single, "Saturday Gigs". At the time I had no knowledge of their earlier Dylanesque rock period from 1969 to 1972 under the producership of the madcap genius that was Guy Stevens, before David Bowie gave them the legendary shot in the arm. I have come to those challenging, but interesting albums over subsequent years.


So, like many groups who had a "glam phase" there are two incarnations of Mott The Hoople. Those early albums have a real appeal to them, but the three glam years saw the very best of the group as they became momentarily famous something that never really sat quite right with them. Mott The Hoople were an honest, hard-working, uncompromising and often shambolic band. They were never quite as good as they might have been, or maybe they were just what they were - a good time rock band who never let us down, despite what they said in "The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople". I finally got to see them live on the final night of their farewell tour in 2009 at the Hammersmith Odeon where they had played all those years before. I had been just a bit too young to see them in 1972-74.

For more information on their history at my local music club when growing up, Friars, Aylesbury, check out the excellent https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk.

   

I read an interview with Queen's Brian May (Queen opened for Mott in 1973) and he said "Mott The Hoople - God bless 'em....". Indeed. He speaks for everyone there.

THE ISLAND YEARS (1969-1971)

Mott The Hoople (1969)


You Really Got Me/At The Crossroads/Laugh At Me/Backsliding Fearlessly/Rock 'n' Roll Queen/Rabbit Foot And Toby Time/Half Moon Bay/Wrath And Wroll  

"I want the band to sound like Bob Dylan singing The Rolling Stones" - Guy Stevens  

Mott The Hoople’s debut album, in 1969, three years before their Bowie-inspired renaissance, was a competent, but somewhat patchy affair. A great cover, by the way, but utterly irrelevant. 

Because it is Mott The Hoople, however, who we all went on to know and love so well, it somehow seems as if the album is better than it actually is. 

Producer Guy Stevens wanted the band to sound, apparently, "like Bob Dylan singing with The Rolling Stones". He sort of achieved that, examples being the Dylanesque At The Crossroads (although it was a Doug Sahm cover, not a Hunter original) and the riffy, Stonesy Rock 'n' Roll Queen. Indeed, Mott were never far from being labelled as "Dylan influenced", because singer/composer Ian Hunter definitely was, and it came across in many of his songs. They also liked a riff or two, so a lot of Stones comparisons would subsequently be made. 

                                                                                   
On to the album. Nicely remastered, it kicks off with a storming semi-instrumental cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me, that almost sounds like a studio jam, then the afore-mentioned Dylanesque At The Crossroads (as I said, Dylan was one of Ian Hunter’s perennial influences, in delivery as well as songwriting). Hunter's vocal is a little down in the mix, and it sounds a tiny bit under-confident as he had only just joined the group. The bass line and organ are impressive as well. It ends with some jamming style clunky piano and drums as Hunter's vocals get more animated. This sightly clumsy piano sound used to end songs is typical of Mott The Hoople in this period.

A cover of Sonny Bono’s Laugh At Me is not bad at all, with an improvised Sympathy For The Devil-style ending similar to the previous track, neither is the most obvious single, the upbeat, riffy Rock 'n' Roll Queen. The old seventies-style vaguely sexist lyrics are present in Mick Ralphs"listen woman..." address on this one.

Hunter's first songwriting contribution is the shamelessly Dylanesque Backsliding Fearlessly from the old "side one" and it is a good one, but you can't help but get the impression that this album saw the band go into the studio, play, and say "ok that'll do" in a "just happy to be there", rough and ready sort of fashion. I don't think they really thought this album through. It has the feeling of a studio jam pervading the whole thing.

Rabbit Foot And Toby Time is a vibrant instrumental jam that precedes the sprawling Half Moon Bay, which is a bit introspective, despite a huge, grandiose, promising intro as the quality dips a little on the old “side two”. The track is far too long and doesn't real get anywhere, being far too ponderous. The album ends with more instrumental jamming in Wrath And Wroll.

Also included here in the bonus tracks is another Dylan-inspired number, the civil rights-inspired Road To Birmingham. It should have been on the original album, to be honest, as should Little Christine. Certainly in place of the two short instrumentals. The group's live recording of Neil Young's protest song, Ohio is great too. There is also a Jimi Hendrix-influenced instrumental in Find Your Way that is probably as good, if not better, (certainly than Wrath And Wroll), than the two on the album. I just feel there was more that could have been put on this album, and that it was something of a missed opportunity. Three more albums over the next three years would do a little to dispel that notion, but all the albums were ever so slightly flawed. Therein lay their appeal, however.

Mad Shadows (1970)


Thunderbuck Ram/No Wheels To Ride/You Are One Of Us/Walkin' With A Mountain/I Can Feel/Threads Of Iron/When My Mind's Gone/It Would Be A Pleasure/How Long? (Death May Be Your Santa Claus)  

"If Mott the Hoople's debut album cheerfully careered all over the place, their second, 'Mad Shadows', has one direction – downward into dense murk" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic

The second Mott The Hoople album, coming the year after their "good in parts" debut from the previous year. It is similar to that album in that it rocks in parts and there are some hints as to the future in some of Ian Hunter's slower numbers, but, as with all the first four Mott The Hoople albums, it carries the impression of being somewhat half-baked. While Thin Lizzy and Nazareth had two "finding their feet" albums, Mott had four of them.

The album kicks off with Mick Ralphs' heavyish rocker, Thunderbuck Ram which has some industrial, chunky guitar and organ parts but is let down by Mick's reedy voice. Oh for his later band-mate in Bad Company, Paul Rodgers on vocals. Ian Hunter takes the lead (he didn't always do so on these early albums) for the simply wonderful No Wheels To Ride, which sees Mott and Hunter at their "ballad with quiet Dylanesque verses turns into melodramatic dollop of rock majesty" absolute best. This is the first true Hunter/Mott classic. There is point about two minutes in when the first "chorus" part kicks in that shivers go down my spine and I realise why I have loved Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter since 1972. Just magnificent. It rides above the muffled production. With a clearer sound it could have been absolutely outstanding. The quality continues on the short but rousing You Are One Of Us, which finishes all too soon. Hunter is showing what a great vocalist he was to become. Shame the track ends to soon.

 

 Walkin' With A Mountain has the rock keeping on rocking with Hunter again in fine form and a Jumpin' Jack Flash fade out. This is early Mott at their best, why they developed a cult following, and why, no doubt, David Bowie always had a soft spot for them. Some critics have not enjoyed this album, preferring the next one, the comparatively limp and feeble Wildlife. God knows why. This knocks it into next week. I have to admit that it has a certain shambolic, slightly unfinished feel to it, however.

I Can Feel is a slower pace, lengthy piano-led Hunter rock ballad of the sort he would go on to specialise in over the years. A great guitar solo on it from Ralphs too. Again, so typical of the best of early Mott.



This album is far more of a Hunter album than a Ralphs one, in comparison to Wildlife, which had four somewhat insipid Ralphs tracks and three lesser-standard Hunter ones. Of the album's seven tracks, four are from Hunter, three from Ralphs, but it just seems to have Hunter's stamp all over it.

Ralphs' Threads Of Iron has its country-ish moments, particularly the "you are what you are" vocal part, but there is still a heavy rock backing to it and Hunter is on vocals and piano and drives the track, making it his own, to be honest. Some great bass from Pete "Overend" Watts too. Some reviewers have described this three-track "side two" of the original album as being a "dense fog". I disagree, it contains some of Mott's hardest, purest rocking. If they were all off their heads on Jack Daniels and at the mercy of madcap producer Guy Stevens, who cares? The result is a frantic, furious kick in the head of beautiful, thumping early seventies heavy rock. Turn it up loud and enjoy the madness! It has the feel of a live recording and is all the better for it.

Hunter brings the proceedings to a reflective end with the sombre, thoughtful and moving When My Mind's Gone, which is somewhat appropriate for this wild ride. His voice, which is so poor on Wildlife is at its best here. Loud, clear, throaty but with a sadness. This is a nearly always forgotten Hunter classic. He has probably even forgotten it himself.  When he sings, against just his own piano backing "When I take my secrets, I will take them with me to my grave..." it is just one of those great Hunter moments, then Verden Allen's organ joins in, then Watts' bass for the fade out - early Mott heaven.

The bonus tracks are Ralphs' hint towards his country rock material on Wildlife in  It Would Be A Pleasure and Hunter's Stonesy rocker How Long? (Death May Be Your Santa Claus). Both would have been ok on the album.

Wildlife (1971)


Whiskey Women/Angel Of Eighth Avenue/Wrong Side Of The River/Waterlow/Lay Down/It Must Be Love/Original Mixed Up Kid/Home Is Where I Want To Be/Keep A-Knockin' 

"Mick writes some great songs - they were written about Bromyard, where he comes from " - Ian Hunter      
As pointed out in a review of Nazareth’s 1972 album, Exercises, many bands felt the need to go “folky” and “country rock” in style around 1970-72. The somewhat directionless Mott The Hoople, circa 1972, did exactly the same with this somewhat low key effort. Even the cover saw the band posing, slightly unconvincingly, in the middle of a wood. Nevertheless, despite several misgivings, listening to it sequentially, I can really hear progress here. It is the band's most cohesive and dare I say mature album to date, by far. It is far less chaotic than Mad Shadows, for example.
                               
The opener, Whiskey Women, is a mainly acoustic led piece of mid-pace rock, with some pleasant upbeat parts and a hook but it is all a bit undercooked. Mick Ralphs is on vocal and his voice was never that great, to be fair. However, at the time it was the equal, if not superior to that of Ian Hunter.  Hunter’s Dylan admiration rears its head once more in the somewhat subdued, organ and bass driven Angel Of Eighth Avenue. After several listens, though, despite the track's slightly hissy sound, it becomes clear that we have a beautiful song here. It has to be said also, though, as with Nazareth’s Dan McCaffertyThin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and Slade’s Noddy Holder, that Ian Hunter’s voice was nowhere near what it became only a year later. All four of them seemed to transform not only their voices but their confidence and personae.

Wrong Side Of The River is so Neil Young it may as well be Neil Young. Mick Ralphs is on vocals again here, he even sings in Young’s Canadian whine - “riverrrr”. It is a good, underrated song. The muffled strains of Waterlow give us a mournful dirge of a ballad, with Hunter’s voice again not convincing. It is a bit of a grower, all the same. He raises it up a bit for the upbeat, gospelly Lay Down, a Melanie Safka song, but this is another track that just seems not really complete or particularly credible even what Mott The Hoople presumably wanted to be. It is very, very easily forgotten.

 

It Must Be Love is a steel guitar Mick Ralphs song with him on vocals again and going all Nashville Skyline meets CSNY somewhere in the Colorado countryside on us. No need, Mick. Start rocking! Hunter’s Original Mixed Up Kid has potential, lyrically. Musically it uses a Dylan-1965-66 style organ and some more whining steel guitar. Hunter’s voice is at its strongest on the album here and it is not a bad track. Probably the album’s best. The “woh-woh” vocal fade out would be repeated by Hunter again on 1974’s Trudi’s Song.

Mick Ralphs' The Band-like country-ish rocker, Home Is Where I Want To Be is probably his strongest track on the album too, all very melodic and not unpleasant at all, with some nice bass bits, but this is Mott The Hoople and for me, this sort of thing saw the band going down a dead end street at a pace. They could, and would, do so much better with later releases and Hunter with his solo material, Ralphs with Bad Company. These songs are not bad ones, and the album is an enjoyable listen, but as I said, there is not much Mott The Hoople about it.

The final track on the album is totally incongruous, given what has come before - it is a rocking live version of Keep A-Knocking which reminds us that, yes, Mott The Hoople could rock. Time to start proving it! As Ian Hunter says in half way through the track - "this is the best kind of music that ever was". Thanks for reminding us, Ian, now keep on rocking yourself in future.

PS - the bonus track, It'll Be Me is far more of the sort of riffy, guitar-driven rocking material that should also have been included on the album. It's a good one. As indeed is the other extra - Long Red, an organ and clunky guitar chugger.



Brain Capers (1971)


Death May Be Your Santa Claus/Your Own Back Yard/Darkness Darkness/The Journey/Sweet Angeline/Second Love/The Moon Upstairs/The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception/Midnight Lady/The Debt  

"The last bit of bad luck, or good luck, we ever had was an album called 'Brain Capers'" - Ian Hunter        
The last of the four “pre-Bowie” Mott The Hoople albums and it is probably the best of the four. It rocks much harder than Wildlife, and is less madcap and rambling than Mad Shadows. It shows some of the potential that would finally blossom over the next couple of years as Mott went into their glam-rock phase and merged showy pop with their by now more formed Dylan and heavy rock traits. It had been a long, hard road for three or more years, but MTH were getting there at last, it would seem. Just a bit more fine tuning needed.
                                              
Death May Be Your Santa Claus is a re-write of a track from 1970s Mad Shadows with an almost funky guitar intro but some seriously pounding, bassy heavy rock kicks in, some madcap, swirling organ and a red hot Ian Hunter vocal. A great start after the insipid nature of the previous album, the comparatively half-baked Wildlife. This is one of the best rockers from the early albums, really good.

Your Own Back Yard is a fetching, tuneful, Dylanesque rock ballad from Hunter. It is a cover version of a Dion song, but sounds very much like a Hunter song, with shades of Alice from 1974’s The Hoople album in places, particularly on the swirling organ breaks. His voice seems to have rediscovered its mojo since Wildlife, where it was uncharacteristically weak. Verden Allen’s organ was also integral to Mott’s sound in this period, no more so than on this underrated track. The band’s sound was a sort of cranked up, heavy rock version of Bob Dylan’s 1965-66 “wild mercury sound” at times.

Darkness Darkness, another cover version, (from The Youngbloods) highlighted Mick Ralphs' weaker voice, but it is still a refreshingly hard rocker in the chorus, which was good to hear after his lightweight, country-ish contributions to Wildlife. He seemed now to blend his love of a lighter, more melodic song with some harder rocking, which was good to hear. It made here for an impressive number - a bit Free-like in places.

 

The big, dramatic, “slow build up to rock majesty” Hunter number to close the old “side one” was the mighty nine minutes of The Journey. Nobody really does this sort of moving rock ballad better than Ian Hunter. Nobody. It is a monster of a song. Nice one Ian. Just wonderful from beginning to end. Hunter was back now, make no mistake. In places, this was also Mott at their heaviest. It does veer from sheer brilliance to shambolic mayhem at times, though. Hunter's knack for a moving, melancholic line is found on the "bridge called suicide" bit. The melodramatic ballad tradition started on No Wheels To Ride and I Can Feel is continued on this behemoth of a number.

“Side two” started with another great upbeat rocker in the Status Quo meets The Velvet Underground of Sweet Angeline (although I prefer the live version on 1974’s live album). Hunter was starting to burn with the fire that would make Mott, briefly, one of the best rock bands around over the next two years. This is one of their best early rockers.



Second Love, (an unusual thing - a Verden Allen song) is a piano and organ led mid-pace  slow rock number with another powerful chorus part and some almost Mexican-sounding brass used too, unusually. Something of an underrated, unique track. Listening to this album again, it is definitely the best of the first four. There is a great full, punchy remastered sound on the latest edition too.

The Moon Upstairs is a bluesy, upbeat kick-ass heavyish rocker with hints of Restless Youth from Ian Hunter’s 1976 All American Alien Boy album, with a frenetic, loud, thumping Mad Shadows-style ending too.

The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception continues the fade-out from The Journey and is a waste, to be honest. The bonus track, the single Midnight Lady (albeit a live recording here), should have been used in its place, and also Hunter’s The Debt, another Dylan-influenced number.

THE GLAM ROCK YEARS (1972-1974)



All The Young Dudes (1972)


Sweet Jane/Momma's Little Jewel/All The Young Dudes/Sucker/Jerkin' Crocus/One Of The Boys/Soft Ground/Ready For Love/After Lights/Sea Diver 

"Buff - don't stop - carry on..."

This was where the brief, but glorious Mott The Hoople Phase Two began and it is popularly thought to be the album where the band were “saved from oblivion” by David Bowie. That is not entirely the whole truth. Yes, he gave them the monster hit single All The Young Dudes and produced the album, assisted by Mick Ronson, but I am pretty sure that an awful lot of the material was there anyway and I also find myself questioning just how much Ian Hunter would be told what to do, even by David Bowie. Nevertheless, his contribution was obviously there, big time, but a lot of it has become somewhat mythologised over the years. What Bowie clearly and indisputably did, however, was to re-unite a rapidly fragmenting band and give them a purpose - a new raison d'ĂȘtre - together with a renewed vigour and confidence. To coin a more contemporary phrase - he gave them their mojo back. 
                                                    
Released in September 1972, it was here, together with the hit single, that Mott The Hoople were catapulted, almost overnight, to their roller coaster two year period of glam rock majesty. As well as the afore-mentioned iconic single, there is some impressive 70s rock on there. The band’s riffy cover of The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane is an absolute delight and it completely trumps the original, in my view. Check out that great 70s stereo separation too - you can use this an the perfect example to demonstrate that typically seventies stereo sound as bass, drums, Stonesy cowbell, crystal clear acoustic guitar and electric guitar all merge wonderfully well to back Ian Hunter's deliberately Reed-esque vocal. I remember first hearing this as a fourteen year-old and just loving it. It was a superb, confident opener to the album, showing a group with new-found balls. 

The funky-ish and strangely soulful Momma's Little Jewel is a considerably underrated song, a bit overshadowed by fading (albeit wonderfully) as it does via a broken tape loop sound effect straight into the iconic All The Young DudesIt also retains its false start part where the music grinds to a halt early on and Hunter shouts out to drummer Buffin - "Buff, don't stop, carry on...". It is a nice quirky bit to retain and sort of exemplifies the group's somehow shambolic, but much-loved approach.

 

Now, here we go then, All The Young Dudes. I have heard the title track hundreds (probably thousands) of times since 1972, but I never tire of it. That guitar intro always, without fail, gives me goosebumps. You still can't beat the bit at end either where Hunter shouts out "hey you, you with the glasses...". Once more, like Sweet Jane, it is a track that successfully merges acoustic and electric guitars. Incidentally, a sometimes overlooked bit of trivia is that Bowie's first offering to bassist Overend Watts was Suffragette City. He returned a few days later with a "great new song" for Mott and kept Suffragette for himself and the Ziggy Stardust album.

Then we get the rhythmic, infectious, syncopated shuffle of Sucker - a track that has always intrigued me lyrically - which precedes the riff-powered Stonesy rock majesty of Jerkin' Crocus, complete with leery seventies lyrics. "I know what she wants - a judo hold on a black man's balls..." is one good example. There is sexual imagery all over the song, to be honest and it is one of Mott's best down 'n' dirty rockers. Some Bowie influence can be detected (maybe) on the song's decadence but the backing vocals on Sucker are certainly very Bowie-esque from his Man Who Sold The World period. 



One Of The Boys is a copper-bottomed, stonking laddish Mott rock anthem, with a great old-style telephone ring intro, but, unfortunately, organist Verden Allen’s prog-rock-ish Soft Ground is a real, contrasting low point. Basically poor old Verden's voice was positively dreadful. That was often the way with bands in those days, though, everyone got their chance to contribute. Fair enough, I suppose, but it really should have been left on the cutting-room floor. Guitarist Mick Ralphs' Ready For Love/After Lights is much better, however, with a great hook, and was later covered by his new band, Bad Company. The After Lights instrumental part is probably drawn out a bit too long, but this was 1972, remember - the longer the better. 

Ian Hunter's stark, heavily orchestrated ballad, Sea Diver, a song that went on to give its name to the group's fan club (set up by a then teenage future rock journalist/author Kris Needs) concludes what is a most satisfying piece of early 70s rock. It was a great improvement on the band’s previous albums and heralded what would be Mott's ephemeral, but glorious "glam" period. Things would be great for the next two years.

The non-album session tracks from this album's recording are:-

Black Scorpio, which was a prototype version of Momma's Little Jewel - it is considerably faster than the eventual cut and heavier. There is more of a frantic, rocking feel to it that may actually have suited the album better and there is some great, fuzzy guitar and bass interplay near the end; Ride On The Sun was an early version of Sea Diver. It is similarly moving and plaintive, Ian Hunter singing over a piano backing. The string orchestration, however, is far more subtle and less bombastic, while organist Verden Allen's contribution is much more noticeable. The is also no huge, dramatic orchestrated part. For me it is a more appealing version and one with slightly more soul.

Mott (1973)


All The Way From Memphis/Whizz Kid/Hymn For The Dudes/Honaloochie Boogie/Violence/Drivin' Sister/The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople/I'm A Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso/I Wish I Was Your Mother   

"My hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger - wanna tell Chuck Berry my news"      

In the summer of 1973, three words mattered to me - Mott The Hoople. Yes, I had been "into" (using the contemporary vernacular) David Bowie since the autumn of 1972, but even then, at fourteen, there was something a little bit too effete about Bowie upon which to focus my adolescent admiration, despite my love for him. Mott The Hoople were different. They were LADS. Although they looked like some of the prefects did at my school when out of uniform - long hair, Afghan coats, and big flares, I always felt Mott could handle themselves in an apres-gig row though. No-one would push Ian HunterOverend Watts or Mick Ralphs around, would they? Like The Clash after them, or The Jam, they were "our band". A band of mates or big brothers to look up to. That is a feeling that really sums up my relationship with Mott The Hoople and it was one that accepted them for better or worse. 
                      
To the music. Ian Hunter's extended, insistent piano introduction to the iconic All The Way From Memphis sets out the stall of this rocking good album. It is an absolutely storming track that tells the tale of Mick Ralphs losing his guitar while on tour in the USA. Roxy Music's Andy Mackay provides a superb saxophone solo and the "insane violin", as described on the credits, is provided by Graham Preskitt. The camp "all the way from Memphis" lines are from bassist Overend Watts. The song provided the group with their third hit single. Unfortunately, the single version edited the piano intro, which was sacrilege, in my book. Thankfully the album version has it in all its beautiful, clunking glory. 

 

The slightly overlooked Whizz Kid continued the rocking vein with a piano and bass-driven mid-pace number before we got all reflective with one of Mott's many killer big-production Hunter-penned ballads, the dramatic Hymn For The Dudes (name checking their breakthrough chart hit from the previous summer, All The Young Dudes, of course). Quiet, acoustically-backed verses lead into some deliciously overblown chorus parts at the song's climax. Check out Mick Ralphs' stunning guitar solo at the song's apex and Dale "Buffin" Griffin's drumming.

A more than welcome chart hit followed with the catchy, singalong Honaloochie Boogie, which was, eight months after All The Young Dudes, proof that Mott could write chart hits in their own right. "My hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger, wanna tell Chuck Berry my news..." was a line I always liked. Andy Mackay provides more great rock 'n' roll-style saxophone while the insane violin and Watts's camp vocal interjections are back again too.

Now things get a bit tasty - the chaotic, menacing Violence showed they could indeed "handle themselves in a ruck", with its mock "just me and you, right..." "pub fight" scene and general frenetic ambience. All very early/mid seventies.

 

Drivin' Sister is another classic, riff-laden sort of Stonesy Mott rocker of the kind they did so well in this period and Ballad Of Mott The Hoople is a corking "slowie" as Hunter details the band's past travails, name checking each member. It is a marvellously evocative and moving song written by Hunter for the band's fans and he addresses them in the lyrics - "you know all the tales we tell, you know the band so well". He also says that "somehow we let you down...". No, Ian, you didn't. Not at all. Never.

Mick Ralphs' slightly dated-sounding I'm A Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso is probably the album's rambling low point with its extended instrumental fade out and Mick's vastly inferior (to Hunter) vocals, but I Wish I Was Your Mother is a fine example of Hunter's Dylanesque folk-rock to end proceedings.

Bands got away with 30 minute albums in those days. It is 30 minutes of enjoyable slightly glammy rock music, nothing more, nothing less. As those sort of albums went, however, this was up there with the best. I knew every note of it in 1973 and still do. I remember everything about the cover even down to the fact that the typing of the lyrics was credited to one Tina Young. Funny the things that you remember.

(Incidentally, who is the mystery guitarist on the second left on this picture above?)

Unfortunately, this was the album that saw original guitarist Mick Ralphs leave the band, shortly before the 1973 tour, having completed the album. He joined up with ex-Free singer Paul Rodgers and went on to have considerable success with Bad Company. He said of his departure - 

"....I was looking for an excuse to leave, I suppose. I'd been thinking about it for a long time. Since the band was becoming more and more Ian's thing, it just wasn't musically satisfying for me any more...." .

The notable 'b' sides and non-album tracks from this period were:-

Rose - this 1973 track was the 'b' side to the Honaloochie Boogie single and is a classic, piano-driven Ian Hunter ballad. It is a bit of an unheralded Mott gem that also gets an airing on the Mott The Hoople Live album. It contains a very seventies line in "a rock 'n' roll slag, you're such a drag....". The song is a sad tale of drug abuse, delivered plaintively and movingly by Hunter and containing one of those huge, dramatic chorus parts that quieten back down to vocal, organ and piano. "I hate to see you cold on a summer day..." is a most moving line to end the song on too.

Rest In Peace was in similar style is this non-album, previously unreleased number. It is also a grandiose Hunter ballad, enhanced by some great organ. Again, it was performed on Mott The Hoople Live. Like Rose, it bursts impressively into a loud chorus passage from quiet verses - quite how it didn't find its way on to this album or The Hoople is a mystery to me. It has echoes of material like No Wheels To Ride from Mott's late sixties/early seventies period and turned up as the 'b' side to The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll in the spring of 1974, but it is essentially from this album's era.

Nightmare was a demo left over from the All The Young Dudes era when organist Verden Allen was still with the band. It is full of his characteristic and much-missed organ swirls, although his voice left something to be desired. It is not a bad track though despite being far more "1972" than "1973".

The memorable single, Roll Away The Stone, was released as a single in November 1973 (recorded in July 1973). It reached number eight in the charts and was one of the group's great "glam" singles, featuring an infectious, singalong chorus and an equally memorable introductory riff. It was re-recorded for inclusion on 1974's The Hoople album, to a far inferior standard in my opinion. Both new guitarist Ariel Bender and backing singer Lynsey De Paul's contributions are markedly worse than those of Mick Ralphs and backing vocal trio Thunderthighs. The original mix is, for me, is the definitive one, by far.

Where Do You All Come From - I remember hearing this back in 1973 as the 'b' side to Roll Away The Stone and being most underwhelmed. It is a chugging, bar-room blues number, backed by harmonica and rollicking piano and led with some grainy, indistinct, bluesy vocals from Hunter. It has airs of Subterranean Homesick Blues and Highway 61 Revisited about it and I like a lot more now than I did back then. It does sound a bit like a "demo" recording, I have to say.



The Hoople (1974)


The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll/Marionette/Alice/The Crash Street Kidds/Born Late '58/Trudi's Song/Pearl 'n' Roy (England)/Through The Looking Glass/Roll Away The Stone

"Don't wanna be hip - but thanks for a great trip"  
                                 
Mott The Hoople's 1974 swansong is a mixed bag. After rising to glam rock heights with David Bowie's initial impetus with corking albums in All The Young Dudes and Mott, they were gone almost as quickly as their star had risen. It was a shame but probably for the best. Sounds awful that, doesn't it? You just felt it couldn't go any further, though and to be brutally honest this is a bit of an uneven album, lacking cohesion and direction. Guitarist Mick Ralphs had left the previous year to join Paul Rodgers in Bad Company and this left Ian Hunter do everything himself, something he felt he over-compensated for. Replacement guitarist Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor) never really fitted the bill for me, being a bit too comic-book rock star.

So, despite some strong points on the album, it was also the product of a band beginning to fall apart. 

The lead-off single The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll is a lesser All The Way From Memphis, with its similar piano intro, but is nonetheless an enjoyable retro rock n roll romp. It is full of blaring saxophone together with a really strong Hunter vocal. Mott were pretty much guaranteed hits now too and it duly became Mott's fifth consecutive hit single.

Marionette is a dense, complicated rocker dominated by Hunter's leering voice plus the ludicrously-named new guitarist Ariel Bender's dentist drill axe. It is full of mood and melody changes that make it sound more than a bit clumsy in places. It is redeemed by some convincing rock parts. 

   

Alice, however, is a great Hunter Dylanesque rock ballad, one of my favourites on here, packed full of atmosphere and great lyrics but, in contrast, the chaotic Crash Street Kidds is a second rate take on Violence from Mott. A bit of a mess. You jut got the impression that the old creative juices had dried up again with tracks like this. However many times I listen to it, it never fails to underwhelm me. To be horribly frank, it's bloody awful.

Born Late '58, bassist Overend Watts' contribution, is a bit of a "Ringo song", his dull, expressionless voice not a patch on Hunter's, although many long time fans seem to love it, but Hunter's Trudi's Song brings the quality back with a touching, laid-back, gentle organ-driven ballad dedicated to his wife. It is a bit of a hidden gem on the album. You can often tell a true Mott the Hoople connoisseur if he/she comes up with this in their "best of" lists. 

Pearl 'n' Roy, probably my most favoured track on the album, is a wonderfully evocative upbeat, saxophone-dominated rocker, full of references to the current political situation in 1974, but Through The Looking Glass, perfectly exemplifying the schizophrenic nature of the album, is a virtually unlistenable racket, particularly on the deafening, bombastic chorus parts and there follows a far inferior version of Roll Away The Stone to the original single version. Quite why they decided to re-record Roll Away The Stone is unclear as the original had so much more "oomph" to it, anyone can hear that. These last two tracks provided a distinctly disappointing end to proceedings, and indeed to Mott The Hoople's studio output.

Despite the patchy nature of the album, though, there were still some really good tracks on the album, - well, five and a half actually - but you couldn't help but get the impression the group were running out of steam somewhat. It proved to be the case, unfortunately.

The non-album singles and an unreleased rarity from this period were:-

Foxy Foxy, which was a single in the summer of 1974 and was a glorious, Spectoresque number with a Be My Baby-style intro and saxophone-drenched extended fade-out. It was not really like anything Mott The Hoople had released before and sort of stands alone as a quite unique single.

Lounge Lizard, which re-appeared in 1975 on Ian Hunter's debut solo album. Here it is recorded as one of Mott's final numbers. it is a robust mid-paced, riffy and muscular rocker. Hunter's vocals are clearer on the later re-recording but there is a raw, edginess to this one that I like. So, along with the next track, another Mott album had three possible tracks ready, but that is as far as they ever got with it.


Then, lest we forget, there was the glory of Saturday Gigs. Now, what can I say about Mott's wonderful, elegiac "goodbye" to us all. Released in October 1974, the group were pretty much done and they knew it. Hunter's mate Mick Ronson had arrived on guitar and they somehow managed to give us this one last Mott classic. The song goes through their career, year by year, from 1969 to 1974. It's bloody marvellous. I can never hear it without being moved as the Mott choir sing "goodbye" at the end, the saxophone wails and good old Ronno's guitar sees us home. 

The Saturday Kids is a most interesting rarity - an early, extended version of Saturday Gigs with the same theme but different lyrics, although Ian Hunter garbles them somewhat and they are a bit difficult to make out. At 1.48 it goes into the more familiar parts of the song, but again with a few different lyrics. I love the "hey man, you wanna party" aside too. It is not as good as the original but it still has its great moments, particularly Hunter's "dudes"-style spoken outro. 

Anyway, sadly, a few months later it was all over. Goodbye lads. Don't forget us. We won't forget you. 

Mott The Hoople Live (1974)


Intro/American Pie/The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll/Sucker/Roll Away The Stone/Sweet Jane/Rest In Peace/All The Way From Memphis/Born Late '58/One Of The Boys/Hymn For The Dudes/Marionette/Drivin' Sister/Crash Street Kidds/Violence/All The Young Dudes/Walking With A Mountain/Intro/Drivin' Sister/Sucker/Sweet Jane/Sweet Angeline/Rose/Roll Away The Stone/All The Young Dudes/Medley/Walking With A Mountain

"You don't look like a slag - you look alright"

Recorded live at Uris Theater, New York City and Hammersmith Odeon, London

I bought this as a teenager upon release in late 1974, after Mott The Hoople had actually split up. It harks back to better times. This now expanded edition has more tracks. The material is taken from two concerts, one at The Uris Theatre, New York, the other at the good old Hammersmith Odeon in London.

The New York gig kicks off with Ian Hunter singing a verse of Don McLean's American Pie before the band launch spectacularly into The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll - Hunter's piano intro is then embellished with the full MTH power as Overend Watts's clunky bass, Dale Griffin's drums and Ariel Bender's guitar take us into sheer Mott heaven. 

 

Other highlights from the New York gig are Roll Away The Stone/Sweet Jane, the lovely Rest In Peace and All The Way From Memphis.

From Hammersmith we get a full length Sweet Jane, and absolutely stonking Sweet Angeline and another beautiful Hunter ballad in  RoseAll The Young Dudes is sung at both shows, of course, while Hammersmith ends with a chaotic medley of Jerkin' CrocusOne Of The BoysRock 'n' Roll Queen and Whole Lotta Shaking. You just wish you had been there, at both gigs. The atmosphere is tangible.

Walking With A Mountain ends Hammersmith with the curtain being forcibly pulled down on the band and things come to a premature end.

The sound is good on these remasters, but Mott were always a bit mistake-prone, live. There is certain amount of shambolic, make it up as we go along feeling prevalent throughout the album. No matter, we loved them for it and still do.

"Don't Wanna Be Hip, But Thanks For A Great Trip”.

  


   

Peter "Overend" Watts              Dale "Buffin" Griffin

1947-2017                                          1948-2016

6 comments:

  1. Mott is one of my all-time favorite albums even though I didn't really like their early albums all that much, except for the songs All the Young Dudes and Sweet Jane and maybe a couple more on that album like ready for love. And I even like most of the Hoople even though it's too over-the-top and straining to be too glammy. Like they were trying to be David Bowie or something. But I still like it anyway

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  2. The early stuff has its appeal but it is not really much like the 1972-74 albums.

    The Hoople definitely has its low points - The Crash Streets Kids, Through The Looking Glass and a much inferior version of Roll Away The Stone.

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  3. I was just checking to see if you reviewed Mott Live. The 30th Anniversary Edition is really great but I remember I had the original version a long time ago and I remember not liking it. I thought the song selection was really sucky and it didn't even sound good. And it was too short. But the newer one is pretty good cuz it has a lot more songs and sounds a whole lot better.

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  4. I too felt the album was too short back in late 1974, it should have been a double like David Live. Thankfully the release we have now is much better. Mott were always a bit shambolic live but that was their appeal, to some extent.

    I saw what was supposed to be their last ever concert in 2009 at the Hammersmith Odeon (I never call it the Apollo) but they came back again in 2013 to play a half empty O2 centre. I didn’t go to that one.

    Incidentally, I have just listened to Nilsson Schmilsson. I will post my review tomorrow.

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  5. Mott the Hoople we're still around in 2009??? Unbelievable. I wonder how many of the old numbers we're still in it.
    I love David live and it's one of my top Boy albums. Even though it's kind of saxophone-mad. Most Bowie fans hated but I think it's one of the classic live albums. In fact it's the first Bowie album I ever listened to and it's where I learned all the songs from Ziggy and Aladdin sane and Diamond Dogs. I learned them all from David Live before I listened to the other albums. So that could be why I love it. I listened to Nilsson myself the other day. The one produced by John Lennon called Pussy Cats. It's as strange as all his other albums but much better than most of them.

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  6. As a lover of saxophone I liked David Live and, in 1974, it was the only Bowie live stuff available so I lapped it up.

    The Mott The Hoople line up in 2009 was Ian Hunter (piano, guitar, vocals), Mick Ralphs (guitar), Overend Watts (bass) (now deceased), Verden Allen (organ) and Buffin (drums) (now deceased, who was suffering from Alzheimers but came out on the drums for the last couple of encores, alongside Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, who had drummed for most of the gig. It was a moving occasion. He got a huge, spine-tingling reception from the audience when they wheeled his drum kit out with him on it. I remember Chambers constantly looking over at Buffin as he drummed, (they were both drumming) marking time for him. As I said, so moving.

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