A struggling English band, ‘Mott The Hoople’ found themselves on the verge of a break-up in 1972. Terrific concerts aside, the band found themselves penniless and privately worthless, despite a legion of fans including Mick Jones, Noel Gallagher and future members of R.E.M. One of the band’s fans, a rising star called David Bowie, lifted their artistic cache with a cover of his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ outtake ‘All The Young Dudes’, a much-needed no.3 U.K. hit. Sufficiently uplifted, the band entered their sixth album with warranted buoyancy. These sessions were, however, largely dictated by front-man Ian Hunter, causing sufficient duress within the band ranks. Keyboardist Verder Allen quit during ‘Mott’s pre-production stage, guitarist Mick Ralphs leaving only months after the album’s release. Though replaced (by Morgan Fisher and the auspiciously titled, Ariel Bender, respectively), Hunter discovered how irreplaceable they were, causing ‘Mott the Hoople’ to disband by 1975, a complete 2009 reunion reviving how timeless their (ultimately shortened) work ultimately was.
And none were better than this work, one of the best glam rock records, and one of the more underrated albums of the nineteen seventies. At thirty-four, Hunter was at the peak of vocal finesse, combining Bob Dylan’s elegiac roar with Marc Bolan’s unflappable rockabilly; a glam rock singer par excellence. Amalgamated by Ralphs sizzling guitar lines (at times as melodic as George Harrison, at others as hard hitting as Tony Iommi), Hunter’s voice proved as tactile as ever rock needed one.
His songs proved he was just as capable a hit-writer as David Bowie had been. Opening track ‘All The Way From Memphis’ proved a much worthier song than ‘Dudes’, complete with Roxy Music’s Andy McKay’s saxophone playing, giving the song a coda not heard since The Beatles ‘na- na – na’ ed’ their way through four moments of ‘Hey Jude’. Fifties stomper ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ featured the groove and bop of a Memphis track, albeit with flashes of Noel Coward’s wit attached. ‘Whizz Kid’ screamed like a seventies equivalent of ‘The Velvet Underground’. ‘Drivin’ Sister’ proved songs about vehicles could be popular, five years before Gary Numan released ‘Cars’.
Ralphs’ guitar playing is centre fold here. Although he would feel sidelined as a side guitarist (he ultimately left to form the riff heavy ‘Bad Company’ with Paul Rodgers), his playing varies from the Spanish fret-work on his self penned ‘I’m A Cadillac’ to the Richie Blackmore chord-play on ‘Violence’ to the gentle detached playing on ‘Memphis’, a style David Gilmour would have given two thumbs up to. Hunter later admitted that he tried to curtail Ralphs from leaving by offering him half his royalties. It proved futile, though ‘Mott’ would be one of two albums (the other being Bad Company’s eponymous debut) that showed his skill as one of the finer guitarists of seventies rock. Brian May himself was a fan!
But its Hunter’s closing ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’ that lifts the album from seventies great to seventies classic. Where much of 1973 sounded showy (this was the year of ‘Dark Side of The Moon’), ‘Mother’ was a sumptuous acoustic ballad meant as a love letter to the legions of fans that had supported Mott throughout the years leading to this indelible moments. The only track without an electric instrument (save for Overend Watts melodic bass playing), the song returns to the band to their Guthrie roots, delicate harmonica playing intact. As fans exploded with affectation to the ballad in 2009, this proved to be Mott’s ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ or ‘When The Levee Breaks’, a closing track that turned its performers into living legends and its album into something greater than normally heard on the radio.