All The Young Dudes

Mott The Hoople

Atlantic, 1972

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of my favorite truisms is this: context is everything.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of it than All The Young Dudes, the album that literally scooped up the ashes of a band and turned them into a phoenix -- for awhile yet, anyhow.

In late 1971, after three years of slugging it out on the road playing rip-roaring live shows to fervent crowds (especially in their British homeland), Mott The Hoople finally managed to capture a taste of their onstage fire with their brilliant fourth studio album Brain Capers.  But their satisfaction was brutally short-lived as the album stiffed, leaving the road-weary band playing to the same not-as-big-as-they-should-be audiences with steadily diminishing interest from their label.  One late evening on the road in March 1972, after an especially uninspiring show in Zurich, Switzerland, the quintet resolved to pack it in.

It was meant to be the final curtain, but turned out to be only the end of Act One of this star-crossed group’s three-act melodrama.  Act Two opened with a deus ex machina of epic proportions as, upon learning of the band’s demise, rising star and devoted Mott fan David Bowie, preparing at the time to unleash his stupendously successful Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album and tour, offered to give the band a single he’d written and produce the album it would appear on, if only they would stick together.

Really?   Seriously?  Umm… yeah… sure!

All The Young Dudes, the album that was not supposed to be, instead kicked off the band’s too-brief Golden Age.  The five Hooplers -- Ian Hunter (vocals/piano), Mick Ralphs (guitar/vocals), Verden Allen (organ), Overend Watts (bass) and Dale “Buffin” Griffin (drums) – reassembled in the studio with Bowie and proceeded to turn out the album everyone always knew they had in them, this time with the added spark of Bowie’s active participation.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The disc opens in fine style with one of Mott’s finer covers, transforming Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” into a lilting, upbeat rocker that cuts right through the sleepy-eyed haze of the Velvet Underground original.   Next up, “Mamma’s Little Jewel” captures the essence of Mott, with Hunter’s dynamic piano, Ralph’s firm riffing and the rhythm section’s sassy thrash pushing the number harder and harder until Bowie himself cuts in with a stuttering, fabulous sax solo --

-- which quick-cuts right into Bowie’s gift to the band, the soaring, poignant title tune, which mined the nexus between the group’s rowdy club roots and the emerging glam scene spearheaded by Bowie himself to deliver a sort of metrosexual rock and roll anthem.  Bowie’s harmony vocals here surely contributed to the single’s success.

With that, the band dispenses with covers and delivers a powerful set of songs all their own.  And while I wouldn’t count “Sucker,” “Jerkin’ Crocus” or even the well-loved powerhouse “One Of The Boys” among my very favorite Mott tunes -- they would record even better -- each is quite strong and showcases the sharp wit and increasing maturity of Hunter’s vocals, as well as the visceral musical impact of this particular unit.

In the last third, organist Allen makes his first appearance on lead vocals on his solo composition “Soft Ground” and acquits himself respectably over a bed of Deep Purple-ey churning hard rock -- and then it’s Mick Ralphs’ turn.  “Ready For Love” is memorable both for the undeniable power of the song and for the way it foretold the band’s eventual disintegration.  Heavier, bluesier and more melodramatic than much of the group’s work to that point, it was also singularly unsuited for Hunter’s cheeky, conversational vocal style.  In the Mott version, Ralphs trades lead vocals with an audibly uncomfortable Hunter on what ends up feeling like a demo for the better-known Bad Company version, which featured Paul Rodgers wailing over Ralphs’ hammering chords.

The album closes out with “Sea Diver,” a concise, sparkling nugget of a Hunter ballad that starts out on solo piano and billows outward halfway through with a pitch-perfect string arrangement and sharp crescendos from the band and Bowie himself on sax once again.  Of note is that said string arrangement came courtesy of Bowie’s guitar player Mick Ronson, who would end up with only a cameo in the saga of Mott The Hoople, but would go on to play a major role in Hunter’s subsequent solo career.

All The Young Dudes picked Mott up off its keister, dusted off its lapels and sent it on its way.  With a hit single and album in hand, the band’s future was finally its own to chart.  While the chaos of Act One surely foretold the outcome of Act Two, there was some fine music to be made before the band finally did call it a day.  For that you can thank superfan David Bowie, the Thin White Duke Of Mott.

[Note: The 2006 Legacy reissue of this album includes seven dynamite bonus tracks, including several demos, two explosive live cuts, and the Bowie-lead-vocals version of “All The Young Dudes.”  If you’re in the market for the album anyway, the Legacy edition is well worth picking up.]

Rating: A-

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