Gott Mott?February 21, 2011
Of all the music biographies I’ve got, the one I go back to time and again is Ian Hunter’s Diary Of A Rock ‘n Roll Star. Hunter was/is/was the lead singer of Mott The Hoople, and his book charts Mott’s 1972 trek across the USA, with all the squalid poverty and crappy hotels it entails, not to mention the non-stop merry-go-round of city-hopping aeroplanes, record company limousines and the band’s endeavours to spend any penny they earn on ridiculously cheap classic guitars. It’s a totally unpretentious read and blows apart any theory I ever had that touring America with a rock and roll band in the 70s would be the most glamorous job on the planet. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you read it. I actually first read it without knowing any of Mott’s material beyond the most obvious (ie. All the Young Dudes), but that didn’t matter. After reading it, I borrowed a Greatest Hits compilation from the library and got myself acquainted.
Mott filled the void between the end of the 60s and the first discordant clangs of punk in the mid 70s. Unfairly lumped in with the novelty Glam Rock scene (what they lacked in make-up, they more than made up for in tunes), in time all yer cool (and not so cool) musicians referenced them, as if associating themselves with the Hoople somehow made their music all the more valid. In his pre-Clash days, Mick Jones was a huge fan;
“I followed Mott the Hoople up and down the country. I’d go to Liverpool or Newcastle or somewhere – sleep on the Town Hall steps, bunk the fares on the trains, hide in the toilet when the ticket inspector came around. I’d jump off just before the train got to the station and climb over the fence. It was great times, and I always knew I wanted to be in a band and play guitar. That was it for me.”
Bobby Gillespie (of course!);
“I was into Mott The Hoople, and then The Clash came and I got into them … because one’s prepared you for the other.”
Well, we can take that quote with a big old pinch of salt, Bob. Whatever you say, but you’re only 7 years older than me. There’s no way on earth you were into Mott the Hoople before the Clash came along. You’d have been 8 or 9 years old. Maybe 11 or 12 at a push, depending on which Mott era you’re referring to. At that age, you’d still have been playing in a sand pit with yer Action Man. But it’s OK! We can’t be first to every party. Don’t kid yerself on that you were.
Mott The Hoople released 4 albums for Island between 1969 and 1971. Four albums! In three years! Their first LP, Mott The Hoople, was recorded in a week and was heavily reliant on hip covers (Dog Sahm, Sonny Bono), with the odd self-penned original added on for good measure. Much of the band’s original material at this point was clearly under the heavyweight influence of Bob Dylan – the rasping already 30 year-old Ian Hunter singing of ‘kings‘, ‘rogues‘, ‘pawns‘, ‘the minds of fools’ and every other Bob cliche you care to mention. Have a listen to Road To Birmingham (listen too how Hunter pronounces Birmingham!) and Backsliding Fearlessly (The Times They are A-Changin’ by any other name). Critically well-received, it was the first release in what was a series of ever-diminishing returns sales wise, for Island Records. On the brink of break-up, Mott fan David Bowie came to their rescue. Offering them Suffragette City from his yet-to-be released Ziggy Stardust… album, Mott said “No Thanks….but we like the sound of that All The Young Dudes song you’ve written.” And the rest is history, but you knew that already.
Here’s a few more Mott the Hoople tracks that would soundtrack Diary Of a Rock ‘n Roll Star quite nicely.
Walking With a Mountain (from 2nd album Mad Shadows. with it’s frantic twin guitar attack, Jerry Lee Lewis rattling piano in the background and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash it’s a gas‘ refrain, it sounds more Ziggy than anything Bowie did, a full 2 years before Bowie did it!)
Trudi’s Song (Hunter’s love song to his wide. Bobby Gillespie included this on a compilation tape he made for Select magazine in 1992, trivia fans!)
Roll Away The Stone (Number 8 in 1973, possibly the only other Mott track you may have heard until now.)
Angel of Eighth Avenue (lighters in the air stadium balld. Weeping pedal steel all over it.)
Ballad of Mott The Hoople (self-referencing ‘how we made it’ ballad. A cracker.)
Golden Age of Rock ‘n Roll (misty eyed doo-wop and piano paen to days gone by.)
David Bowie‘s version of All The Young Dudes. But of course!