It is 1972, Great Britain has just joined the European Union, the Watergate scandal is making headlines and Mott The Hoople is on the verge of disbandment. After forming three years earlier in 1969, the group hadn’t accomplished much. Although they gained a reputation for being an amazing live band, the band failed to make much of an impact on the charts. Their two previous albums had been totally unsuccessful, commercially speaking. Additionally, the band had issues with their label, which seemed concerned that the band didn’t have a clear trajectory. Mott The Hoople decided the best thing to do would be to quit.
Then David Bowie walked in.
In 1972, Bowie was still a relatively unknown singer. But for Mott The Hoople, he represented an opportunity. The story goes that the band’s bassist Overend Watts approached Bowie and asked if he had any gigs going on, fearing he would be out of work if Hoople actually decided to go their separate ways. Bowie didn’t offer him a job but had seen the band live and was a huge fan of their loud gigs: “Don’t do anything, I’ll find something, you don’t have to break up,” Bowie said.
True to his word, Bowie sat down to write a song that would save the band from oblivion. Of the writing process, Bowie said, “I literally wrote it within an hour or so of learning their breakup was imminent. It was a great little group, and I was like, ‘This will be an interesting thing to do, let’s see if I can write them a song and keep them together.’ And that’s what he did.
But first Bowie needed to know if the lead was right. He first played the song to Pete Watts at his manager’s house. Watts recalled that Bowie played “All The Young Dudes” to him: “On 12-string acoustics,” he said. “You could tell right away that it was a great song; he had the words of the chorus, but he did not have all the words of the verses. But the song quickly developed and Bowie quickly decided to play it for the whole group. Singer Ian Hunter recalls, “The first thing I knew was that I could sing it because I’m not that universal as a singer. And second, there was no doubt about it; it was a great song.
However, even with a great song, Mott The Hoople still had a problem: how to record it. After alienating their label, they had to find another way to get into the recording studio. As their manager did everything they could to get Mott The Hoople out of their recording deal with Island Records, the band headed to Olympic Studios in London under cover of darkness for a recording session. sneaky at midnight.
Bowie and the group objected. There was no time to rehearse before recording. Bowie played the song once, and the band played him again; that’s all he went. Bowie then put down a vocal guide so that Hunter could follow the tune with a bit more ease. This obviously helped, and the vocal tracks were completed in under two hours. Meanwhile, guitarist Mick Ralphs wasted no time and used the session to create the distorted guitar lick that introduces the track.
However, when the group returned to the studio the next night, Bowie seemed to be deep in thought. Hunter remembers how Bowie “felt the song was going to falter towards the end,” he said, adding, “That nothing was happening. He was about to decide not to use it as a single when I remembered a meeting I had had with a rowdy at a recent concert at the Rainbow. He annoyed me and I ended up pouring beer on him. The anecdote inspired Bowie , and he ended up using it as ad lib towards the end of the song.
Feeling reinvigorated, Bowie then had the bizarre idea of putting the band in the studio bathroom. This is where the applause that appears in the chorus was recorded.
Despite the band’s struggles to record it, “All The Young Dudes” changed everything for Mott The Hoople, just as Bowie intended. It became a hit, and Bowie even decided he’d like to produce the rest of Mott’s album The Hoople. Bowie’s songwriting skills were truly the miracle Mott The Hoople was looking for.
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