“I can’t really discuss it…there’s a void there as far as I’m concerned…” – Ian Hunter
Mott the Hoople: While most people even remember British rockers, the name is usually associated with David Bowie and the song he wrote for them, “All the young guys.” Some might even remember the early to mid-1970s glam-rock era they were associated with.
Beyond that, that’s all, well, shadows in stereo.
Yeah, here we go again – another band I didn’t really understand until they left. For me, they joined the ranks of the great and forgotten MC5, Stooges and Velvet Underground. Of course, in the late ’70s, America’s mutation of the rising punk scene rested on a handful of ramshackle clubs in and around New York where these American godfathers of punk were revered by the new wave of rock ‘n roll.
I didn’t live in the Big Apple; in addition to Mott, the Hoople came from the UK anyway. Still, it was interesting to note that the avant-garde of the punk scene across the Atlantic seemed to appreciate The Who and Mott the Hoople at least as much as they reviled the Rolling Stones (too decadent) or Led Zeppelin (too pompous), or everyone (too boring).
Although their releases in Colombia such as All the young guys, Mott, The Houple and Live have remained fairly accessible in one form or another, the albums that make up the first half of their catalog, Mott the Hoople, Mad Shadows, Fauna and cerebral capers were not always easy to find. To complicate matters further, after frontman Ian Hunter left the band, they truncated their name to Mott, recorded a few more albums, then changed their name to British Lions and recorded a few more before calling it quits, at least until until they reform for the inevitable reunion concerts of the last few days.
Either way, their eclectic mix of Dylan-esque folk rock, glam leanings, occasional prog-like forays, proto punk/metal and basic rock ‘n’ roll meant they might have made it. just because of their broad appeal. Instead, their records were often simply seen as wildly inconsistent. As such, any given album has its ups and downs, and arguably the best way to understand the band is to simply listen to it all.
A good starting point is Mental Train: The Island Years (1969-1971). On this compilation, we can hear: the exquisite blankets Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” and Dion’s “Your Own Back Yard”; the powerful (and wonderfully titled) “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”; and Mick Ralph’s featured vocal take on “Thunderbuck Ram”, long before he rose to fame and fortune as a founding member of Bad Company.
After that, there are a number of compilations celebrating the back half of Mott the Hoople’s career, the best of which would have to include the previously mentioned glam anthem “All the Young Dudes”; Ian Hunter’s indictment of the music industry, “Marionette”; and “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” which despite its odd title has to be one of the most beautifully broken ballads ever written.
Finally, I also recommend the Mott/British Lions coda, not just for the sake of completeness, but because I think there’s some decent material to be found on those albums as well. (Just be prepared for a different aesthetic from the band’s previous release.)
“I feel neglected, I feel rejected – live at the wrong time“, sings Ian Hunter in” The Moon Upstairs “. If there was ever a defining moment in rock ‘n’ roll, this might be it. Fortunately, the magic is always in the music, if you know where to look for it.