David Bowie was on his way to superstardom in 1972 when he decided to donate a Top 40 song.
He had already released two UK Top 10 singles, including chart-topping “Space Oddity”. Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky-dory had been a #3 platinum selling smash in his home country. More importantly, he had just finished the defining career The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Marswho would ultimately break Bowie in the United States.
It’s a time when few would care about anyone else’s fortunes, but Bowie suddenly became very concerned about Mott the Hoople‘s ongoing struggles.
“Who else at this point in their career would start giving other people time and songs?” Mott frontman Ian Hunter marveled in a 2018 chat with The Guardian. “How did he find the time for this?” He was hugely ambitious but still found time to do other things too, which I think is pretty remarkable.
Frankly, Mott the Hoople desperately needed help. They had released a quartet of uncharted singles dating back to 1969, remaining little more than three album cult favorites in their career.
“We were a great live band at the time, but we failed to achieve chart success,” said Verden Allen, keyboardist for Mott the Hoople. Wales online in 2016. “Bands like Free had done it, and so had Traffic – but we couldn’t get a hit and we started to feel that our Island label was getting a little impatient with us.”
The low point came during a miserable and truly bizarre concert in an abandoned gasometer in Switzerland, later told in detail by Hunter on 1973’s “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” clod.
“I remember getting there and thinking, ‘What the hell is this? “, Allen said. “The sound was awful, the crowd was awful and I couldn’t help but wish they were putting blood gas inside either [encourage us] a bit or get us out of our misery once and for all.
Listen to David Bowie‘s version of “All the Young Dudes”
Horrified, Bowie decided to gift them “Suffragette City”, a track he had already completed for the next album. Ziggy Stardust. The Mott guys needed a boost, but they weren’t sure the song was right for them.
“We got this tape at Island Studios,” Mott bassist Pete Overend Watts said. later recalled. “It was a seven-and-a-half-inch reel in a box, and it was like, ‘This may be useful to you. Give me a ring. I love you, David.'”
The Zurich debacle was more than Watts could bear. He ended up calling Bowie back, but not about “Suffragette City”. Instead, he asked for a job. Mott the Hoople, Watts informed Bowie, would split up at the end of their UK Rock and Roll Circus tour
This stopped Bowie in his tracks. He immediately began working on “All the Young Dudes”, the single that would save Mott the Hoople.
“It was the first song I wrote for someone else,” Bowie said. Mojo in 2009. “They were about to break up as a band and I told them not to because I thought they were a really good band. I told them I was going to write them a hit single – and I did. It was easy.”
Mott the Hoople then enjoyed an exclusive reading of the song with its glamorous author. “He liked our picture and sent us a telegram inviting us to his agent’s office in London,” Allen told Wales Online. “He wore a blue catsuit and played ‘Dudes’ to us on a blue acoustic guitar. We had never met him before, but he just had this unmistakable star quality about him.
“All Young Dudes,” they quickly realized, had the potential to be a big hit. “He strums it on his guitar and I’m like, ‘He wants to give us this? He must be crazy!” drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin later said. rolling stone. “You couldn’t fail to see it was a great song.”
More importantly, it suited Hunter’s vocal approach better than Bowie’s previous gift. “We said, ‘Damn, that’s a hit – that’s what we’ve been looking for for years,'” Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs said in 2013. “That really saved our bacon.”
They took Bowie out for a much-needed meal to celebrate. “He looked very skinny, like he hadn’t eaten for a few days,” Allen told Wales Online. “I remember he put his single ‘Starman’ on the jukebox and said to me, ‘Your song will be out there before too long.'”
Listen to “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople
Bowie’s manager, Tony Defries, booked time on May 14, 1972, at Studio 2 at London’s Olympic Studios, where “Bowie played him for us, and we played him again”, Griffin recalled. Bowie recorded lead vocals, rhythm accompaniment and sax during the completely unreleased midnight session, overseen by co-producer Mick Ronson with technical assistance from engineer Keith Harwood.
The guys from Mott the Hoople were absorbing every detail. “We still had a muddy, dirty sound without a lot of clarity,” Hunter told the Lowell Sun in 1974. “We didn’t know how to do it right. We wanted to be a classy group. When David took over, the sound became clear. We learned a lot about arranging and producing. It was a technical change.
Ralphs added some shine to the bent notes, and within two hours Mott the Hoople had the foundation for a hit. What they didn’t have, Bowie argued, was a good finish. Everyone was still wondering what to do as they gathered the next evening.
“He felt the song was faltering towards the end – that nothing was happening”, Hunter recalled later. “He was about to decide not to use it as a single when I remembered an encounter I had with a heckler at a recent concert at the Rainbow [in London]. He was pissing me off and I ended up pouring beer on him.
Hunter recreated his rant as a shouted ad-lib, starting with a line of one old radio show. Bowie encouraged them to gather in a bathroom to add echoing handclaps, and “All the Young Dudes” was ready for release in July 1972. The single climbed to No. 3 in the UK, while ultimately helping Mott the Hoople to American success.
That’s when their real problems started: “People thought we were David’s proteges,” Allen told Wales Online. “Nobody had realized that we had been playing for a few years before that.” Hunter took on a more pivotal role in trying to match that singles success, but they never did. Allen would leave before the start of the sessions to clod. He was followed by Mick Ralphs, who later co-founded Bad Company with Paul Rodgers.
“We had been left puzzled over the direction the band should go, and Ian was increasingly taking things in the direction he wanted them to go,” Allen added. “It’s a ridiculous thing to do when you think about it, but I had finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and realized I didn’t want it anymore.”
By 1974, Hunter had shut down the entire operation, although he didn’t blame Mott the Hoople’s left outfield shot. “You can say [“All the Young Dudes”] could have had a negative effect on the band’s image,” Hunter said. rolling stone“but without it, there wouldn’t have been a band – it’s as simple as that.”
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