One of the most important British rock groups of the (late) 60s and 70s, Midland Mavericks and urban guerrillas Mott The Hoople were as prolific as they were influential during their time with Island Records. Count among their fans Queen (who supported Mott in 1973 and 1974 in England and the United States), Def Leppard, Motley crue, REM, TO KISS and Shock, Mott The Hoople has left an indelible mark on an even wider range of talent.
Their most fervent supporter was none other than David Bowie, who gifted them “All The Young Dudes” in 1972 (they turned down the opportunity to cover “Suffragette City” and then passed on “Drive-In Saturday”), the song that saved Mott from a premature breakup and did Top of the pop regulars – an irony not lost on a group that has endured more than its fair share of setbacks.
Listen to Mental Train: The Island Years 1969-1971 on Apple Music.
Considering the quality of their four Island albums, it seems astonishing that Mott was ever in the doldrums. Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs, Pete “Overend” Watts, Verden Allen and Dale “Buffin” Griffin were the mainstays that gave us the real deal with their self-titled debut album, produced by Island man Guy Stevens, featuring the engineering by Andy Johns.
Recorded at Morgan Studios in Willesden, London, in the summer of 69, Mott the hoop still sounds epic, fueled by a dual passion for The rolling stones and Hunter’s unwavering dedication to the lyrical flair of Bob dylan. A rowdy and clever beast, the album found the nascent Mott mixing originals with covers – notably The Kinks‘”You Really Got Me”, “At The Crossroads” by Doug Sahm and “Laugh At Me” by Sonny Bono. But their growing army of fans, known as The Lieutenants and The Hot Motts, were perhaps more drawn to the band’s own compositions, which included “Backsliding Fearlessly” and the single “Rock And Roll Queen”. The Mental training The set includes a full vocal version of “You Really Got Me,” hammering out the band’s credentials, while the inclusion of the B-side “Road To Birmingham” and the complex “If Your Heart Lay With The Rebel (Would You Cheer The Underdog?) ”Provide a full flavor of Mott in their ’69 / ’70 pomp.
“A band of outlaws marauding”
September 1970 Crazy shadows features the same team in a more confident mode, with Hunter and guitarist Ralphs tackling the sound on “No Wheels To Ride” and the glorious riffs of the grungy “Threads Of Iron”. The opening “Thunderbuck Ram”, meanwhile, receives several releases on Mental training, including a live BBC session and organ studio shoot, providing a chapter and verse on the song. There is also a fascinating demo of “No Wheels To Ride”, while goodies such as “Moonbus (Baby’s Got A Down On Me)” and the hugely popular “You Are One of Us” show that Mott is really into his game. momentum the second most successful album of their Island era.
Released six months later, in March 1971, Wildlife was largely self-produced but featured guest appearances by singer Jess Roden (once featured as Jim Morrison’s replacement in The doors) and pedal steel guitarist Jerry Hogan. Less dark than its predecessor, the album has country rock ‘n’ roll elements in its grooves, notably on a medley of “Keep A-Knockin ‘”, “I Got A Woman”, “What’d I Say” and “Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin On”, captured live at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, England, for which Hunter provides a piano destruction during the Little Richard classic. Wildlife crawled to No.44 in the UK – a performance that in no way reflects the quality of the album. Premium Mental training the material complements the picture with a cover of Mountain (“Long Red”), fan favorite “Brain Haulage (Whiskey Women”) and “The Ballad Of Billy Joe”.
Mott’s first creative impulse ended in December 1971 Brain capers, an album built in a period of flux with Guy Stevens recalled to produce. Critically acclaimed – not least for Hunter’s extraordinary “The Journey” and Ralphs’ guitar work on “The Moon Upstairs” – this album also saw Jim Price add brass to Verden Allen’s “Second Love”. Full of psychodramas, Brain capers is enhanced by “Mental Train (The Moon Upstairs)”, a polished version of “One Of The Boys”, and sought-after rarities “Darkness, Darkness” and “Black Scorpio (Momma’s Little Jewel)” – the latter being one of the songs that intrigued Bowie so much, which watched the band with growing fascination during this time.
“Children couldn’t get enough”
The fifth Mental training disc, titled The ballads of Mott The Hoople, covers original / unheard of music from the time of the island. Check out “Angel Of 8th Avenue”, “Can You Sing The Song That I Sing” and “Ride On The Sun (Sea Diver)”, as well as a BBC session on “The Original Mixed Up Kid”.
Live, Mott was second to none. Queen guitarist Brian May noted, “Mott rocked relentlessly and unstoppable in their show every night, like a marauding band of outlaws and every night there was something like a riot. – children could not get close enough; they just couldn’t get enough. Ian Hunter – the unwritten boss – would take center stage behind his sunglasses and challenge anyone to sit still.
Rightly so, the final Mental training disc combines their full Fairfield Hall show from September 1970 with a brilliant BBC Radio 1 In concert show, recorded on December 30, 1971, finding Mott at a crossroads, producing a version of Neil young‘s “Ohio” a merger of “No Wheels to Ride” and The Beatles‘”Hey Jude” plus a definitive version of “Whiskey Women”.
Of course, it took that Bowie moment to get Mott back on track and on the charts, but to say the rest is a footnote would be wrong. Their island years remain an important part of their history and a vital addition to the mental train that remains Mott The Hoople.
Mott The Hoople’s Island albums have been reissued on 180g vinyl. Buy them here.