Mott the Hoople - All The Young Dudes
Record Label: CBS Records (UK)/Columbia Records (USA)
Release Date: September 8, 1972
Even if Mott the Hoople never really got the respect they deserved as one of the best rock acts of the 70s, their legacy would be solidified with 1972's All The Young Dudes. After several attempts at success, the group was about to break up. If it weren't for David Bowie, Mott would have closed the book on their career. Bowie offered them "Suffragette City," but Ian Hunter refused, prompting Bowie to pen "All The Young Dudes" on the floor in front of him. Despite being somewhat hastily written, the song went on the define Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter, and the glam rock movement. The album, produced by Bowie, does in fact live up to the song's greatness. Though it might seem like a one hit wonder to many Americans who know the tune, the record pays for a full listen.
Beginning with an excellent reading of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," the record follows a rather curious path. The breezy, light touch of the cover is treated by a somewhat soft production on Bowie's part. It's interesting, to say the least. Even on the rockers, Bowie gives the tunes a kind of soft sweetness that's hard to explain. It's that feeling of twilight in summer, carefree and easy. You can hear it in Mick Ralphs' guitar tone and tasteful leads, or in Verden Allen's organ touches, or in Bowie's distant saxophone whine on "Sucker." This laidback sounding production doesn't keep Mott from rocking hard though, as most of the record is dedicated to some great rock & roll.
Because the title track became Mott's biggest hit, some listeners might assume that because it was written by Bowie that the band lacked any really great songs of their own. This is in fact not true. This is the album where Hunter and the group truly came into their own. Hunter, being the core songwriter, is most evident. "Momma's Little Jewel" grooves out a story of a girl caught between childhood innocence and London's underbelly. "Sucker" chronicles some S&M fantasies with a poet's delight. Ralphs' "Ready for Love" shows off his surprisingly great voice as well as his excellent guitar playing, and the song would go on to get a second life after he formed Bad Company towards the end of the 70s. Allen's "Soft Ground" affects the band's penchant for Velvets styled weirdness with an English twist. Even if Bowie's writing credit for the title track seems misleading, that song turns out to be a gateway into Mott's unique take on glam and their undersung catalog of great tunes.
Even with Bowie's hands all over this album, having produced, written, played sax, and provided some backing vocals, it doesn't necessarily feel like one of his albums, not even the glam ones. Mott's songs and their performances make this album all their own. Bowie's presence on the album feels like that of a good friend, and he was. He saved the band, really.
The centerpiece of the album is obviously "All the Young Dudes." It's some kind of hymn, or maybe a dirge, for the disappointing end of the 60s. It begins with, "Billy rapped all night about suicide, how he'd kick it in the head when he was twenty-five." Every character the song entails is a loser, born on the outside and probably destined to stay there; suicidal Billy, thieving Wendy, star-faced Freddy, the transvestite Lucy, and the narrator's brother. The brother perhaps captures the let down of the 60s the best: "My brother's at home with his Beatles and his Stones, couldn't get it off on that revolution stuff, what a drag. Too many snags." Even the two pinnacles of what the 60s meant to so many people have let down the Dudes. It's this disappointment, almost a sense of betrayal, which fuels the song. "Television man is crazy, says we're juvenile delinquent wrecks." It's easy to see how glam would give way to punk rock in England; "All The Young Dudes" points to the line in the sand leftover from the 60s counterculture that never really faded--there was still a generation gap, and perhaps it was widening, resulting in violence as unemployment grew worse and political issues deepened.
"All The Young Dudes" gave the outsiders of glam and beyond a flag to wave, whether it was sexual or just to simply say "we are here." The punks would have their own flags to wave too. The Sex Pistols would have "Pretty Vacant," the Adverts with "One Chord Wonders." The Clash would capture Mott's melancholy on "Stay Free." Sham 69 would write "If The Kids Are United," inevitably starting the oi! punk movement. Generation X would name themselves for their audience, even if they never went on the gain too much credibility (and, their name would later be used for the grunge crowd). On American shores far from Mott the Hoople, Richard Hell would pen "Blank Generation." Though the bridge between glam and punk isn't always apparent, Mott the Hoople's outsider persona definitely gave way to the movement's mentality.
Overall, All The Young Dudes is an excellent record. It's a shame that they aren't a more revered group, but perhaps that fact only adds to their outsider legacy.
Despite this being such an undersung album and band, there is little to criticize about the album. After all, having Bowie at the helm pushing Mott to greatness and making sure they could make their best record didn't hurt. Perhaps the only issue one would have is Allen's "Soft Ground," with its odd, chromatic riffs and Allen's strange voice. Aside from that, All The Young Dudes is an incredible record, overlooked too often, and damn near forgotten.