All the Young Dudes
Mott the Hoople
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: #89
Weeks Charted: 19
Taking what does not belong to you is a crucial part of the process of creating rock & roll: Exploiting proven riffs, phrases and hooks, then adding a few twists of your own -- that's how it works and that's how it's always worked. Only nobody made a big thing about it until Mott the Hoople came along. They've never made any attempt to camouflage the sources of their music; on the contrary, they have glorified the practice of musical thievery. Mott's first album, on which the group introduced its felonious approach with furious, shameless abandon, is a genuine tour de force. The group took specifics that the Stones used to create and that Procol Harum used to get that thunder and flamboyantly superimposed these over a style that bore every plane and angle to be found in Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." And their song choices: Hearing some irreverent English punk doing a startlingly well-executed deadpan Dylan over a surging Highway 61 instrumental track on an old Sonny and Cher novelty tune is an experience as ironically apt -- and as oddly touching -- as the whole idea is ironically comic.
And if Mott the Hoople let its high-spirited plays on middle Dylan degenerate into heavy-handed near-obsession over the course of albums two or three, the group made up for it early this year with the rip-roaring Brain Capers. There was still a definite Dylanesque aspect in singer Ian Hunter's vocals and in the keyboard-cascade crescendos, but for the first time it was doled out with care rather than with the usual unchecked fury. Just as important, the group regained its sense of humor about itself and about its sources (the pairing of Dylan and the Tijuana Brass was especially nice).
But after four albums, the Hooples still hadn't gained much of an audience: Their label, Atlantic, unloaded them, and morale was so low that there was serious talk of calling it quits. At the critical moment, along came David Bowie, who liked the group very much and wanted to produce its next album. Bowie, who is as smart in the studio as he is flamboyant on stage, endeavored to help Mott tie up its few remaining musical loose ends with a much-needed commercial boost by supplying them with a finely written, brilliantly arranged single, "All the Young Dudes," which seems likely to become Mott's first hit, adding to their image a modicum of trendiness they never would've been able to cultivate on their own.
For the album, producer Bowie has taken thinning shears to Mott's wild, thick sound and given it a smoother, more streamlined shape. On All the Young Dudes, you won't find any more of those tracks that build unremittingly to full roars and so remain. The tracks here are of moderate length, and you can distinctly hear the individual elements throughout each. The first time through, I was surprised to find the group's treatment of the Velvet Underground classic, "Sweet Jane," with its obvious powerhouse potential, subdued to the point of understatement. It doesn't hit you over the head and flail you as you'd expect it to in Mott's hammy hands -- it practically beguiles. By using a muted setting as he does here, Bowie lets heretofore unnoticed aspects of the band's approach come to the surface: Hunter is no longer just a clever impersonator -- he's turned into a convincing singer, a fact that didn't register earlier because his voice was rarely separable from the group's enveloping sound. Hunter offhandedly strolls his way through "Sweet Jane," with more than a trace of mannered Bowie inflection and Lou Reed Talky Dylan-ness added to his own thoroughly Dylanized style.
Fortunately, Bowie has chosen not to tamper with the two most endearing qualities of Mott the Hoople: The group's irreverent, seemingly unconscious punk humor, and the closely related sense of knowing just what to rip off from whom and where to use it. The intro to Hunter's "Jerkin' Crocus" will trick the inattentive into thinking they're hearing the Stones launch into "Brown Sugar" (although it develops into a crisp, appealing song on its own terms, featuring a just-right whhoo-oo-oo vocal embellishment following Hunter into the choruses, a nice touch the group would never have thought of without Bowie's help). The Stones steal gets your attention, as does the playing off of a Keith Richards-style tense, ringing guitar against a power-chorded Led Zeppelin guitar-bass boom in "One of the Boys." And what Hoople album would be complete without Hunter, back in full Dylan regalia, badmouthing some not-so-sweet young thing ("Mama's Little Jewel," by Hunter and bass player Overend Watts). The new element of sexual ambiguity may be in deference to the producer or in quest of attention, but whatever the reason it's almost as funny to hear this pseudo-Dylan struggle with sexual identity as it is to hear that other one hawking "Golden Protest" on the National Lampoon album.
Between the Bowie and Reed tunes, the two bows to the Stones, the latest variation on Highway 61 and the irresistible "Ready for Love" (there's also the haunting, sad Hunter ballad, "Sea Diver," giving the album a somber, mystic ending), there's an extravagant amount of power-driven, hook-laden rock & roll on All the Young Dudes. Bowie deserves plenty of credit for cleaning and refining, but he had plenty to work with. Now they've got everything, and they're bound to make it on the strength of this record. I just hope they can take what Bowie's given them and move off in a direction of their own, rather than staying in his shadow. I also hope they never get so pleased with themselves that they try to be overtly ambitious or original. When it comes right down to it, you are what you steal, and Mott the Hoople has stolen extremely well.
- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 12/7/72.
Old Mott the Hoople fans, poor souls who, like me, already have enough troubles of their own, are now confronted with a new challenge from England's most zoned-out rockers since Syd Barrett left the Floyd. The challenge: Find Mott on this David Bowie production. At first it seems tricky. We remember Mott from the strange days of their first album with its weird Escher-covered musical burlesques; from their second psychotic descent into the mental maelstrom happily entitled Mad Shadows; their third album, a country/western parody, Wildlife, a kind of stoned on the range; and from their fourth album, a musical tribute to James Dean, Brain Capers, which opened with the slashing "Death May Be Your Santa Claus" and proceeded to descend emotionally to rock at both its grimmest and its grimiest.
The standout cut on the new album is, of course, the title song, hit single "All The Young Dudes," which was written by David Bowie and it is certainly one of the Starman's finest musical and lyrical accomplishments yet -- ranking with "Space Oddity," "The Man Who Sold The World," "Life On Mars," "Moonage Daydream" and "Suffragette City."
With Bowie as hot an ascendent star as we've seen for a while, his association with Mott The Hoople has its beneficial aspects. First of all, it is a superlative production, with all the taste and subtlety of David Bowie's own self-produced albums. It is clearly the best-produced Mott The Hoople album yet. Bowie's production also associates the band with him in a very favorable light: creative cooperation by a group of artists on its highest level.
Perhaps the only drawback, one that is perhaps ultimately irrelevant, is that Mott feels like David Bowie occasionally when, in fact, they really aren't and, in general, while playing with some of the same concepts, tend in very different directions. "All The Young Dudes" is not just a David Bowie song but is virtually a David Bowie record. The sense in which it is an organic part of the album forms an interesting artistic link between Bowie and Mott that is only slightly enlightening. Forgetting the single, we have a brilliant Mott The Hoople album, demonstrating the group's abilities to extend themselves into fresh musical areas, while continuing the manic tradition that brought them to where they are now and will be tomorrow.
"Sweet Jane," one of Velvet Undergrounder Lou Reed's most intriguing songs, is performed with energy and irony in a way Lou himself never could. Of the original songs, "Momma's Little Jewel" is an inspired comic vaudeville of all those sweet young things, "Sucker" is a punchy jam, "One Of The Boys," the flip of the single, is a perfect footnote to "All The Young Dudes," and "Sea Diver" is a surprisingly lyrical almost-love song complete with strings attached.
Their next tour here should allow Mott The Hoople, who are five prime young boogaloo dudes, to carry the news in America. Then we'll be really be in for it.
- Bruce Harris, Words & Music, 1/73.
Mott the Hoople were another group in the long procession of British unknowables until they had the good taste to align themselves with the unquestionable star of the moment, David Bowie. Bowie's immaculate production has been conducive in transforming M.T.H. into a modestly avant-garde mini-supergroup. Try to solve the riddles that are "Sea Diver," "Jerkin Crocus" and that most exquisite of hits "All the Young Dudes."
- Billboard, 1972.
Those enamored of the dirty sound Guy Stevens got out of (or imposed on) this band complain that David Bowie's production is thin and antiseptic, but I always found their Atlantic albums fuzzy, and anyway, the material is powerful enough to overwhelm such quibbles. Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen make catchy. Bowie's title tune captures the spirit of a dispossesed younger (than me, Bowie, or Mott the Hoople) generation united by a style against time. The Velvet Underground cover is definitive. And Ian Hunter does more than get away with a long, slow, pretentious one at the close -- "Sea Diver" is a triumph. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Just as Mott was about to pack it in due to their amazing lack of public acceptance, David Bowie entered the picture, and with the recording of a few cannily conceived songs, containing strong gay allusions (Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" and Mott's "Sucker" and "One of the Boys"), Mott went from potential has-beens to avatars of the glam rock movement. The Bowie-produced album contained a version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" and Mick Ralph's "Ready for Love," one of his finest bits of writing to date. As on many albums of that genre, the production sounds tight-assed, stiff, and dry. Nevertheless, Mott makes the proceedings rock fairly convincingly. * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Named after a novel by 1960s cult writer Willard Manus, Mott the Hoople combined the yearning vocal style of Bob Dylan with the swirling keyboards of Procol Harum and some Stonesy guitars. Self-regarding and swaggering, Mott embodied the Seventies glam-rock aesthetic at its best: Working-class and straight but well loved by a gay audience, they managed to retain a cool irony amid the narcissistic welter.
But in 1972, having released four albums that failed utterly to crack the charts, the band was in trouble. While their live shows drew crazily enthusiastic crowds all over England, Mott were sinking into debt. Glam-rock figure and longtime Mott fan David Bowie thought this a shame, and he offered the wistfully anthemic "All the Young Dudes" to the band as a final shot at the pop stardom that had thus far eluded it. This was a particularly generous gesture, as Mott had previously turned down Bowie's "Suffragette City" as insufficiently sophisticated. "All the Young Dudes" would go on to become the band's most successful single, just as the Bowie-produced album of the same name would resurrect Mott the Hoople's career.
The record's high points are very high indeed. Of particular note are the soulful version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," which serves as the album's opener; the strutting "Jerkin' Crocus," which recalls the Stones' "Tumbling Dice," of the same era; and the oddball "Sea Diver," which closed the record in a rather quizzical fasion. While All the Young Dudes does feature a few clinkers among its nine tracks -- organist Verden Allen's heavy-handed "Soft Ground" is particularly hard on the stomach -- the disc is a central document of the glam era, a time when English rock wore its reckless heart on its sleeve in a truly endearing fashion. * * * *
- Adam Bresnick, Rolling Stone, 5/9/02.
Vocalist Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs' precursor to punk fourished under David Bowie's glammy production style, resulting in a smarter, more tuneful album than their previous outings. Sexy, rocking fun, from the Duke's fresh favorite title track to the definitive version of the Velvets' "Sweet Jane," this classic deftly demonstrates where Oasis got their ideas. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
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.
All the Young Dudes was chosen as the 491st greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
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