Sunday, 4 October 2020

Mott The Hoople - Is That Concrete All Around (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'être - 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.

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.

Andy Mackay provides more great rock 'n' roll-style saxophone while the insane violin and Watts's camp vocal interjections are back again too.


Drivin' Sister is another classic, riff-laden sort of Stonesy Mott rocker of the kind they did so well in this period.  

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. 

I Wish I Was Your Mother, though, 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

"Jeans for the genies, dresses for the dreamies, fighting for a place in the front row"  
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. 

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. 

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 contemporary political situation in 1974. Every time I hear it, it take me right back - most nostalgic.

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"

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 Rose

All 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”.



Mott The Hoople "best ofs" are best served by these three:-

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