Who knows? That cheesy lounge band playing in a ski resort may just one day record two of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
I mean, it sort of has been done before. Perhaps they weren’t doing lounge music, but in 1966, a band from Herefordshire, England came to an Italian Resort to be a house band at the resort’s club. The band, called The Doc Thomas Group, was made up of Stan Tippins, Mick Ralphs, Dave Tedstone, Pete Watts and Bob Hall.
Stan Tippins was the vocalist, Dave Tedstone was a guitarist, and Bob Hall was the drummer.
Mick Ralphs had been a member of a blues-rock band, The Buddies, since he was in his teens. He joined The Doc Thomas Group as their lead guitarist just before they left for Italy.
Pete Overend Watts was the bassist for the band.
The group was discovered while performing at the resort and got a recording contract on the Italian label, Dischi Interrecord. They released one self-titled album on the label in 1966.
The band toured throughout Italy over the next couple of years. By 1968, they had added two new members.
Bob Hall was replaced on drums by another Herefordshire-based musician working in Italy, Dale “Buffin” Griffin.
Also, the band added an organist into the band with Verden Allen.
Allen had been in an R&B band, The Inmates, and had played organ behind a young Jimmy Cliff.
The band moved back to England and started touring the UK. By this time, they had changed their name to Silence. Silence went into Rockfield Studios in Wales to record some demos. They began shopping the demos to various UK record labels. The only label that showed any interest in signing the band was Island Records.
Island executive and producer, Guy Stevens, liked the band’s playing, but did not like Tippins as the lead singer. He agreed to sign the band if they would let him put an ad out for a lead singer to replace Tippins. Tippins stayed with the group, becoming their road manager.
The ad said “Singer wanted, must be image-minded and hungry.” Several singers auditioned, but one showed up in mirrored sunglasses and wild curly hair. He was the closest to what Stevens was looking for.
The singer’s name was Ian Hunter.
Hunter had been in the music business as far back as 1958. He had moved from one group to another over the next decade. By 1969, Hunter was married with two children. He was no longer a full-time musician, working part-time as both a newspaper reporter and in road construction. He went to the audition for the band “on a lark,” thinking that he had no chance. During the audition, he showed that he could play both guitar and piano, as well as sing, and Stevens added him to the band.
Guy Stevens had been jailed in the mid-sixties for a drug offense.
While trying to pass the time in prison, he had read a book by Willard Manus about a circus freak show, titled Mott The Hoople.
Stevens loved the name of the book, and since the time that he had first started working for Island, he had been wanting to have a rock band on the label by that name. He told Silence to change their name to Mott the Hoople. The band was not keen with changing their name, but Stevens made it a condition of signing them, so they eventually relented.
The band did not go out and play together live with Hunter, but instead Stevens immediately had them go into the studio to record their debut album. His plan for the band was to record an album that would sound like if Bob Dylan was the lead singer of The Rolling Stones.
The album titled Mott The Hoople, was released in the UK in November 1969.
It is a great debut. I wasn’t expecting the Dylan clone thing to be so apparent, but there are times when Ian sounds just like ol’ Bob. It opens, oddly, with an instrumental version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” “At The Crossroads” sounds like Bob Dylan just recorded a new song, as does their cover of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me.” Hunter thought that the Rolling Stones ripped off their “Rock And Roll Queen” with “Bitch” off Sticky Fingers. The album’s best track is the 10 minute long “Half Moon Bay” which is almost prog-rock. I recommend checking the album out if you can find it.
It was not a huge commercial success, but it did create some buzz on the underground scene in the UK, and got good reviews.
Just two months later they returned to the studio to record a second album.
Released in September 1970, Mad Shadows was not a successful sophomore album. It got both bad reviews and sold terribly.
Yes, that is the album cover. It looks more like some modern post-rock band’s album, not a Dylan-esque band from the 70’s.
Though, to be fair, they mostly dropped all the Dylan stuff by this album, but they definitely embraced the Rolling Stones stuff. In fact, the original title of the album was supposed to be Sticky Fingers, until the Stones decided to name their next album by that title (supposedly Mick Jagger sings backing vocals on “Walkin’ With A Mountain” off this album. Between taking the name of the album and Hunter’s charge that “Bitch” was a ripoff, perhaps Mr. Jagger was a mole.)
Mad Shadows is good, too. While they were still trying to be other people, they were doing it well. Some of the songs on the album rock pretty hard.
1971 saw the release of two albums. The first one was titled Wildlife.
By Wildlife they had totally dropped the Dylan stuff, but they seemed to have picked up a Neil Young fancy, most notably on “Wrong Side of the River,” an obvious attempt at Neil Young mimicry. The album is uneven, but not bad. The best track is the Ralphs penned track “Home Is Where I Want to Be.”
The second album of 1971 was titled Brain Capers.
Brain Capers was a return to their hard-rocking ways of the first two albums. The Dylan sound comes back on this album in bits. However, they had developed their own sound by this time. Hunter’s “The Journey” is an epic 9 minute track. The album is good, but nothing too memorable.
It was their least successful album yet. It was their first album to not chart in the Top 200 albums in either the UK or the US.
The band continued to tour, but not any major venues, unless it was as an opening act. They had their worst concert when they performed along with a juggler and a comedian in an old gas bell in Sweden, depressing the whole band due to the fact that they had now released 4 albums and were stuck playing a concert in abandoned industrial equipment.
They felt that the band just wasn’t working, and they decided to break up.
Pete Watts was friends with David Bowie and told him over the phone that the band was breaking up. Bowie was a huge fan of the band and did not want them to split. He told Watts that they could have a song, “Suffragette City,” which he was going to record for his next album, but the band turned him down as they were intent on going their separate ways.
Bowie wouldn’t take no for an answer, and decided that he would give them another song to record and sat down and wrote, “All The Young Dudes” specifically for them. Plus, he said he would produce their next album for them, lending his name to the band to try to bring them some commercial recognition. The band relented on their intent to break up, for Bowie’s sake, but with the caveat that if this album wasn’t successful then this would be the end for them.
The band had left Island Records since they had intended to no longer record as a band. Now that they were ready to record another album, they signed a deal with CBS/Columbia Records.
Mott The Hoople and Bowie, along with members of Bowie’s band went into Olympic Studio in London to record this make or break album. With Bowie at the helm, the band would now have a different, glam-rock sound, being remade, in part, in Bowie’s image.
The Album Cover:
The cover is an ad out of a 1940’s catalog for schoolboy’s suits, I guess playing up on the “All The Young Dudes” theme, showing literal young dudes. The band name and title replace the catalog’s title and the track listing replaces the clothing description and prices at the bottom.
The original picture was supposed to be something else entirely, a photo of a young boy playing a cardboard guitar with facepaint on.
No one can quite remember why they didn’t go with the photo of the boy.
The back cover is really quite ugly, with a brown background, and a frame in the middle with really cheap looking photos of the band members inside, along with the usual track listing and credits.
I am reviewing the US vinyl LP release of All The Young Dudes released on Columbia in 1972.
(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs. As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)
The album opens up with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” The awesome opening track streak continues! Some think this is the definitive version of the song. I say that it isn’t better than the original, it’s perhaps on par, but either way it is a great version of the song. Interestingly enough, Bowie would go on to produce, the song’s author, Lou Reed’s big breakout solo album a few months after this.
“Momma’s Little Jewel” is a Bowie-esque track, though it was written by Hunter and Watts. It has the lyrics “Don’t know why but I’m going to try to re-in-celibate you.” I’m not even sure I know what that means. It seems like he wants to…wait, how old is this girl? No matter what the subject matter, it is a really cool song.
There is a neat transition in which “Momma’s Little Jewel” stops like someone stopped the record and it scratches and the next song starts. At least I think that was supposed to happen.
The title track, “All The Young Dudes” is regularly mistaken for a Bowie sung song because it sounds just like Bowie and the backing vocals have his voice in there somewhere. It is one of the greatest rock songs ever written. It just has that feeling from the opening notes that it is something important. It name drops T. Rex, Beatles, and Rolling Stones, but interestingly, as this is intended to be a glam-rock anthem, Beatles and the Stones are sort of painted as squares in the song with T. Rex being the band that changes someone’s life. I love it. I always remember that scene in Juno where Jason Bateman and Juno dance to this song and they show the CD that they are playing and it is Mott, the band’s next album that they are listening to and not this one.
The next track “Sucker” is a down and dirty track. It’s a little Exile On Main Street-era-Stones-esque. Not many songs start with the line “Hi there, your friendly neighborhood sadist.”They really start to jam as the song goes on and at one point it has hammer and anvil sounds. Another awesome track.
“Jerkin’ Crocus” is another in the Rolling Stones style, but it has some synthesizer mixed in. It’s probably the dirtiest song I’ve reviewed so far. Sample lyrics: “She’s a nads puller/ I know what she want, a judo hold on a black man’s balls.” and “C’mon jerkin’, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon jerkin’, jerkin’, jerkin’, jerkin.'”
Side two opens with “One Of The Boys.” Actually, it opens with rotary phone dialing sound effects. The song starts out like it’s going to be a slow ballad, but it gets heavy quickly. It ends with a fadeout and then the phone rings and someone picks it up and then we hear the song through the phone, that’s quite cool. They’ve done nothing but great stuff so far.
“Soft Ground” has a great driving bassline and cool organ swooping in. I don’t think Hunter is on lead vocals here, I guess it’s Verden Allen since he wrote it, but I’m not sure. The vocals are a little weird on this one, but I still think it is a really awesome song. It is quite prog-rock-y, a little King Crimson-y at points, which can only be good in my book.
I should point out that past the third track on the album, nothing has had a Bowie sound. It’s cool that they are doing their own thing by this point on the album.
“Ready for Love/After Lights” is probably better known as the Bad Company song that was a big hit off their self titled debut album a couple of years later (spoiler: Mick Ralphs leaves Mott The Hoople for Bad Company.) I love the Bad Company cover version, but honestly this one rocks harder and is freakin’ awesome with its echoey guitars. Behind the title track, this is my favorite song on this album.
“Sea Diver” closes out the album. Hunter sings and plays piano with an orchestra before the band blasts in with guitars. The orchestration was done by Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson.
His singing is pained and lyrics seem to be about a breakup, but I’m not sure, it’s a little ambiguous. It is a beautiful closer to the album.
This is such a great album. I have listened to it before, and I have always liked it, but listening to it this time I realize just how awesome it is. Every song works, it has great flow, and after listening to their preceding albums I really heard a band come into its own on this one. No doubt, Bowie deserves a lot of credit for making this album great, too.
Working with Bowie paid off for the band. The title track became their first big hit reaching #3 on the pop charts in the UK and making the top 40 in America. The album was far and away their biggest success, reaching #21 on the UK album charts. Their success was much larger in Britain since the name recognition of David Bowie meant more there than in the US, as Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, which was his big breakout in the US, was just coming out at the same time as this album.
Because they were now a success, the band decided to stick together with the exception of Verden Allen. He decided to leave because the band was not interested in playing the songs he had written (only 2 of his songs had they ever recorded.) He was replaced by keyboardist Morgan Fisher.
Bowie gave them another song of his to record as a single, “Drive In Saturday,” but he and the band disagreed over how it should be played, and they decided not to work together anymore.
While the band was peaking creatively, things were breaking down again for them. With this turmoil, they entered the studio again to try to record a successful follow-up to All The Young Dudes.
The rest of their story will be continued with entry #362.
My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:
RS: “Mott The Hoople were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them and turned them into glam rockers. He penned the androgyne title track and had Mott cover Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.” Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.”
I don’t think the title track is androgyne. Can a song be androgynous? It references all parts of the glam rock movement and refers to a guy becoming a drag queen, but how does that make the track androgyne? That’s like saying “I Am The Walrus” is tasty because it mentions custard in the lyrics. Also, how do you sound glittery? I just…I don’t know what you guys are talking about half the time.
It’s just great. As I have mentioned before, most of these albums I’ve reviewed to this point I’d heard before, but some I will be experiencing for the first time. This one I’d heard before, but somehow listening to it this time on vinyl felt like the first time. I can’t rate it anything less than the highest rating I’ve got.
5 Stars out of 5, Perfect rating
My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:
Now that I have so many albums that have the same rating I guess I should start explaining why one gets ranked ahead of another. I now have 4 albums I’ve given perfect ratings to. Right now my mind has this one competing with KISS for the #3 slot. I guess based on the more substantial lyrics, I’ll put All The Young Dudes at #3.
1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses
2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes
4. KISS- Destroyer
5. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters
6. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres
7. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up
8. Outkast- Aquemini
9. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World
10. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising
11. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign
12. Pearl Jam- Vitalogy
13. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs
14. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show
15. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual
16. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!
17. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail
18. Eurythmics- Touch