Mott The Hoople

TrackAlbum / Single
Rock And Roll QueenMott The Hoople
Death May Be Your Santa ClausBrain Capers
All The Young DudesLive - 30th Anniversary Edition
Sea DiverAll The Young Dudes
Drivin' SisterMott
RoseHonaloochie Boogie / Rose (single)
The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ RollThe Hoople
Born Late '58The Hoople
MarionetteLive - 30th Anniversary Edition
Saturday GigsSaturday Gigs / Medley … (single)

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Contributor: Keith Shackleton

It’s a tough task to compile a top ten, isn’t it? I’m not complaining, mind, far from it. If it’s a band you rate but don’t spend every waking moment with these days, it’s good to return to and riffle through their back pages, selecting the favourite songs that you know and love. If you’re a fanboy, agonising over different line ups, periods and styles and dredging up obscure tracks from long-forgotten rarities to come up with a definitive list … well, it might have you tearing out your hair, but ageing fanboys don’t have much of that left anyway, and arguing over lists is what fanboys do, isn’t it?

But the thought running through my head right now, as I complete the list and get down to writing, is not how tough it’s been to compile (it wasn’t really, though it did take a couple of revisions before I was happy), nor the nagging feeling that it’s not a top ten, it’s more of a favourite ten and a ten that tries to show light and shade and a variety of moods. Damn.

No, here’s what I’m left with: the great majority of these songs might not have existed if David Bowie, on learning that Mott The Hoople had stalled and was prepared to split, had not given the band All the Young Dudes. Written with them in mind, and played by Bowie on acoustic guitar to an incredulous Ian Hunter, the song reimagined the band as glam-punk thugs and gave their career a timely, but as we shall see, ultimately destructive, kick up the arse.

And, I wasn’t going to include it in the ten. I held back because it was Bowie’s song; he expertly produced Mott’s interpretation of it, and there were songs written by the band themselves that were equally important and should be in the ten, yada yada … what crap. How can I not include it? Juvenile deliquency, suicide, the TV generation, and two fingers stuck up at the old guard in the definitive anthem of 70s rock. Just listen to it. It’s absolutely bloody perfect.[1]

So why were they about to split up?

Their debut, Mott The Hoople wasn’t anything other than a cult success. Indicative of the fact that the band hadn’t found their feet, the album opens up with not one, not two, but three cover versions. The band is aiming for the heady mix of Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, insisted upon by mercurial producer Guy Stevens, but generally missing the target. Rock And Roll Queen however, built around exceptional Mick Ralphs riffing, is a firecracker.

And that’s the way it continued with Stevens at the helm. “We’ll hit the bullseye one of these days, lads, more effort, more chaos, chaos is our friend, because out of chaos comes inspiration, and inspiration leads to success.” But there was no focus. Sophomore effort Mad Shadows turns up the volume and dispenses with any wit; its most significant composition, Thunderbuck Ram, points Mott in entirely the wrong direction. On the positive side, Hunter’s Walkin’ With A Mountain has plenty of chutzpah and continued to be a live favourite until the end.

Wildlife, the band’s third album in two years, took a gentler approach, and Stevens was excluded to a large extent, chiefly to make something (anything!) happen. It felt like a transition, but from what, to what?

Brain Capers (late 1971) was a last desperate push at success. It has a bristling, raucous energy: Stevens returns and propels the band pell-mell through the sessions. Mott are urgent and dangerous and ready for a fight on the piledriving rocker which opens the record, Death May Be Your Santa Claus. Hunter draws the songs to a close, howling “How looong … how long will it taaaake?”[2] over a rampaging Hammond riff, tape overloading, VU meters whacking the end stops. Great stuff, and the prelude to some blistering music – occasionally Dylan-by-numbers, definitely arrogant, frequently thrilling. So what happened next?

Clothed in one of the worst ever album covers in rock history, Brain Capers stiffed.

Enter Mr. Bowie.

Bowie rounded up the band and prompted and prodded them in the right direction, creating the album that made them stars: All The Young Dudes. Hunter had found his voice on Brain Capers, but make no mistake, the whole band are on great compositional form here. There’s room for one more track from All The Young Dudes in my top ten, the remarkable Sea Diver, one of Mott enthusiast Morrissey’s Desert Island Discs, fact fans, and maybe one of mine.

1973 brought us Mott, a heady mix of hard rockers and introspective numbers produced by the band with Hunter now firmly in charge. I’ll take the gear-shifting Drivin’ Sister as my favourite here, despite choices that are maybe more obvious, and I’ll also select the B-side to Honaloochie Boogie, the delicate and moving Rose.

So far, so good? Well, not quite. Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen had both felt qualms about the band’s direction, Allen leaving before Mott when one of his songs didn’t fit, Ralphs after (the great thing about the early stages of the band being the search for success, the worst thing being the comedown once you’d found it).

But Mott pushed on with new guitarist Luther Grosvenor of Spooky Tooth (renamed Ariel Bender) and the keyboard genius of Morgan Fisher, to deliver The Hoople in 1974. And here, finally, I’m going to pick an honest to goodness glam-pop classic, The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll [3], with its fat horn section, pumping piano, squiggly Bender solo, Hunter pouring it on at the mike and wonderful female backing singers. It gloriously packs everything but the kitchen sink into 3:26.

Two more for the ten from this record too – bass player Overend Watts chips in with an absolute gem in Born Late ’58, check that scraping rhythm guitar sound. Punky, huh?[4] And Marionette, a wonky little psychodrama best heard on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Live, complete with queasy piano intro and the full force of the band behind it.

We’re nearly done here. And so was Mott The Hoople. Touring, touring, always touring – down in the city, just Hoople and me – the pressure of an album a year wore down Hunter who bailed out with latterday Mott guitarist Mick Ronson. But we have just time to sneak my last choice into the ten, the band’s final recording with Hunter, Saturday Gigs. If there’s one thing Mott did well – come on, there’s obviously more than one, but stick with me – it’s to write insightfully about being in a band, the romance and the heartache, and never better, or with such wry humour, than here. The band knew their audience and vice versa. People felt, and still feel, that they were a part of Mott The Hoople. As Hunter says, “We didn’t really play to ’em, everybody just piled in together, you know?” If The Clash were The Last Gang in Town, maybe Mott The Hoople were the first. A great gang to be in.

Footnotes

[1] Listen to it especially on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Live. If you’re going to buy one Mott record, this is the one to seek out. It sounds superb, and documents two brilliant gigs from 1973, played in Hammersmith and New York (the ‘other’ Broadway). This release rights a great wrong; Live always should have been a double, rather than a single disc with a slightly baffling track selection.

[2] And who does Hunter sound like here, and elsewhere? John Lydon, is who. Check out the intro to the 1973 concert video. Hunter: “It’s nice to be back in Los Angeles, I really mean that … (pauses, tunes guitar).. Actually we don’t mean it at all, it’s a drag.”. That famous Lydon sneer, years before, “Did you ever feel you’ve been cheated?”. Dudes? All the Young Punks.

[3] What, no more of the big hits in my ten? Aw, put Honaloochie Boogie and Memphis and Roll Away The Stone in your own ten. I know they’re good, you know they’re good. We’re done here.

[4] More than a little of Mott echoed in The Clash too: a producer in common (Stevens), a rabid Mott fan in Mick Jones … Punks, you see?

N.B. Seek out Hunter’s book Diary Of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star – you won’t find a more honest and illuminating account of life on the road.

 

Dale “Buffin” Griffin (1948–2016)

Peter “Overend” Watts (1947–2017)

 

Mott The Hoople official site

Ian Hunter’s official site

Comprehensive Mott/Ian Hunter discography, lyrics archive

Mott The Hoople biography (iTunes)

The Riverboat Captain – Keith Shackleton’s website

An Ian Hunter solo toppermost would be fun, and Keith has deliberately excluded any Mott or British Lions post-‘74 recordings in his survey and selection … so get in touch if you think they’re worth a shout…

TopperPost #112

7 Comments

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Oct 31, 2013

    Many thanks Keith for a very insightful TopperPost, the bar has been truly raised! I will be seeking out the 30th Anniversary edition of the Live album. I was 13 when All The Young Dudes came out and us ‘Sladeheads’ at school loved it, as we did with all the subesequent Mott the Hoople singles although we didn’t explore the LPs. And I insisted on spelling the band’s name Motte the Whoople!!

    I had not connected Ian Hunter’s voice to John Lydon’s or the Mott sound to The Clash but thinking about it, the connections are there. I won’t argue with the 10, but I would have tried to make room for All The Way From Memphis, if only for the sax parts. In a Mott related way, when Ian Hunter released Once Bitten Twice Shy, we started greeting each other with a ‘Hunteresque’ ‘allo’. I saw Ariel Bender’s post-Mott band Widowmaker, a gig spoilt because they were too loud for the small venue, but I do remember a heartrending song that I think was called ‘Is It Really Me’.

    Great post Keith, please don’t make it your only one!

    • Keith Shackleton
      Oct 31, 2013

      Hey Ian, thanks for the kind words… I too was a Sladehead and I know exactly where you’re coming from re: “Allo!”. As Merric says, maybe a post-Hoople ten will appear and “Once Bitten…” has to be there, it’s damn near perfect. I thought long and hard about ‘Memphis’ 🙂

      I have one or two ideas about more posts… watch this space.

  2. Mike Newcombe
    Oct 31, 2013

    Hi guys. I was pointed in the direction of your website today by someone who knew I was a Mott fan. Looks interesting and I’ll have a greater look through some of the other posts when I’ve got more time.

    I wouldn’t disagree with any of your top 10 but for what it’s worth here’s mine in no particular order.

    All The Young Dudes
    Saturday Gigs
    Hymn For The Dudes
    Ballad Of Mott The Hoople
    Alice
    Drivin’ Sister
    Walkin’ With A Mountain
    All The Way From Memphis
    Rock & Roll Queen
    The Journey
    Sweet Angeline

    All right that’s 11 but I don’t know which one to leave out. Like you I can’t believe that I haven’t included Honaloochie Boogie and Roll Away The Stone!

    If you haven’t heard Ian Hunter’s latest album When I’m President yet, I strongly recommend it. His best since You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic in my opinion.

    I never thought that the reunion shows would ever happen as Ian was always adamant that he wouldn’t do it but I was there at Hammersmith in 2009 and what a great show it was. I think everyone thought that was going to be a one off so when they announced they would be doing a tour this year I was amazed. 18 days and counting to the O2. Can’t wait.

  3. Peter Viney
    Nov 1, 2013

    Great piece on Mott. As you must know, the original hardcore Mott fans place All The Young Dudes as the end of the Mott they loved and admired. I saw them in 1969 and 1970 but never bought an album though the wonderful Escher cover of the first album was tempting. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, those Island and CBS cheap samplers created “virtual singles” for bands, so At The Crossroads (Nice Enough To Eat) and Thunderbuck Ram (Bumpers) were Mott’s virtual singles. When I saw them at the University of East Anglia in 1969, Ian Hunter was acting in his introductions as if very stoned (and I’m pretty sure it was over-acting too) talking about the weird lights at Norwich station, then realizing they were all in his head etc. I recall two epic and brilliant Dylan covers. I’m sure one was Like A Rolling Stone, but even looking at the tracklists of mid 60s albums fails to remind me of the other.

    The first Mott record I bought was All The Young Dudes (45) then the LP, so I’m not with those fans of the pre-Bowie band in dismissing the later stuff, but it’s an often expressed opinion.

  4. Keith Shackleton
    Nov 1, 2013

    Mike: ten best songs is an impossible task on the majority of bands. I had to whittle them down somehow, and in the end I just thought that the hits are better known, so let’s emphasise the other songs. But I had to have Golden Age.

    Peter: Indeed, I know some of those fans! Not to be harsh but there generally are other reasons for bands being commercially unsuccessful than just plain bad luck. The early albums have some great numbers, ones which survived in the live set for a very long time, and terrific flashes of inspiration, great playing etc… but even though we all like the band so much, it’s hard to make a case for the earlier releases as great albums, e.g. I love Brain Capers, but it’s desperate and chaotic… not that there’s anything wrong with that, but maybe if you’re going to have a hit album that ragged energy has to be focused a little more than it was, or something seismic needs to happen.

    And there’s the fan factor too. If you’re part of the ‘clan’ of a cult band, or one that is just starting out, they’re yours, you feel you have something special that other people don’t have. And you’re bound to feel aggrieved when everyone else gets into them.

    I can’t help you out with the Dylan cover unfortunately. I had pondered including Sweet Jane (RIP Lou) in my ten because Mott did it often and so well, but there wasn’t room for it in the end.

  5. Rob the Organ
    Nov 2, 2013

    Well done – a great read. I am one of those blinkered folk Peter talks of who doesn’t like post-Island stuff, but I’ll say now that whether or not it is considered a valid era, so many years, hits and even reunions later, the early Mott were one of the best UK based Americana acts when strongly Dylan/Hawks (Band) influenced, and maybe it is testimony to the band having such strong identities that they even have different period fans. I’ll go with Backsliding Fearlessly, No Wheels To Ride and The Original Mixed-Up Kid as easy personal favourites rather than pick ten. I will, however, add “Rest In Peace” to it – a later CBS era B-side that for a brief moment harked back to the Americana of the Island records era.

    Peter – fuel your Escher hankerings and get the first LP. There’s moments there where you swear you’re at the Free Trade Hall and somebody is about to shout “Judas!”.

  6. Peter Viney
    Nov 2, 2013

    I will if I see it, Rob, but only the vinyl will do when the sleeve is part of the equation, and you’re talking £80 to £100 in mint condition, so I need a charity shop that doesn’t look up prices. I do remember the Al Kooperesque sound of early Mott (I think Al Kooper, not Garth Hudson).

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