Before becoming David Bowie-sanctioned glam superstars, Mott the Hoople was the brainchild of rock producer and manager Guy Stevens.
His vision of a group mixing Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones first bore fruit on their eponymous debut album, released in November 1969.
Previously, most of the members were from British beat groups which had converged in the late 1960s to form a group called Silence. The quintet (guitarist Mick Ralphs, bassist Pete Overend Watts, keyboardist Verden Allen, drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin and vocalist Stan Tippins) recorded a few demos that caught the ear of Stevens, then on the new Island Records.
After having Silence audition for him, Stevens decided he liked the sound of the band, but wasn’t thrilled with Tippins. He demoted Stan to the rank of road manager and posted an ad for a new leader that said: “The singer wanted, must have a sense of the image and be hungry.”
Entered Ian Hunter, a seasoned performer who was a bit older than the rest of the band and who already had two children. But Hunter had the look (crazy hair and sunglasses) and talent (powerful, proven voice on stage) that convinced Stevens and the others that he was the guy.
The next change was the name. A rock band called Silence was ironic enough, but far from stopped and Stevens was looking for something more interesting. In prison on a drug charge, Stevens read the novel Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus and thought that would make a great band name. The members of Silence reluctantly accepted the change.
With a bolder name and Hunter in place, the band could start working to fill the potential Stevens saw, from the rock ‘n’ roll musculature of Ralphs and Watts to the charismatic and sometimes nasal vocals of Hunter.
Listen to “Rock and Roll Queen” by Mott the Hoople
Pressed to put his ambitious plan on tape, Stevens didn’t wait for the newly baptized and leading group to solidify on the road. Before Ian Hunter could even play a gig with his new band mates, Stevens only spent a week in the summer of 1969 recording the tracks that would become Mott the Hoople’s debut album.
Considering the haste with which it was created, it is not shocking that Mott the Hoople contains three covers, starting with an instrumental version of Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. The other two are not by Dylan (“At the Crossroads” by Doug Sahm and “Laugh at Me” by Sonny Bono “) but are certainly done in a Dylan-esque style far too common among folk and rockers of the 60s. .
On the flip side, the LP also includes Mott’s first icy classic, the first installment “Rock and Roll Queen” – a slice of rocky aggression written by Ralphs. Hunter would later mention that The Rolling Stones’ “Bitch”, released the following year, bore more than a fleeting resemblance to his band’s stunning creation.
Were the Stones, in fact, imitating a group which in turn imitated them? Who knows? What is clear is that Mott got the upper hand over the Rolling Stones by at least one point: MC Escher turned down Mick Jagger’s request to create the cover for the Stones. Let it bleed, but Mott the Hoople managed to put a color version of Escher’s “Reptiles” on the cover.
Mott the Hoople was released in November 1969 in the UK on Island Records (and early 1970 on Atlantic in the US). While the group wasn’t billed as the second advent of the Stones or Dylan, they began to build a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic. The record, which reached 66th place in the UK, managed to climb to the bottom of the charts in America.
Stevens and Mott would each have major success in the future, but not with each other. After nearly breaking up in 1972, Mott the Hoople would become one of glam’s brightest stars with the help of Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” (and his management team). Later in the 1970s, Stevens produced one of the greatest albums of all time, The Clash London call. Unfortunately, he was unable to capitalize on the popularity of the record. He died of a prescription drug overdose at the age of 38 in 1981.