You ever get stuck on a song? I do, often. Tonight I was spinning Mott The Hoople Greatest Hits, in preparation for seeing Ian Hunter in Buckley on Saturday and trying to shrug off my topical malaise* and tonight I have ended up playing ‘Ballad of Mott’ nine times in a row; my wife thinks I’m having a breakdown and I’m not ruling it out as a possibility. There’s just something about the exquisite melancholy of the track, the perennial realisation that ‘all that wears glitter on its face and big boots, is not gold’ that just hits my mood right. Guy Stevens’ mission was to cross Dylan with the Stones when he helped put Mott together and I don’t think they ever fulfilled their remit better than on this one track.
You know all the tales we tell, you know the band so well
Still I feel, somehow, we let you down
We went off somewhere on the way and now I see we have to pay
The rock n’ roll circus is in town.
I can’t think of anyone else from that era who ever flashed on the inevitable disappointment of success a fraction as well as Mott did. Maybe that’s the problem with having an intelligent, sensitive, bullshit intolerant singer on board:
Behind these shades, the visions fade, as I learn a thing or two
Oh but if I had my time again you all know just what I’d do.
It shocks me to see that I’ve owned this record for over 27 years now** almost as much as how much it shocks me that that’s how long it was since I was 17; join me in a quick chorus of ‘All the old dudes…’ if you will. I bought it off a second-hand record stall in Bridgwater Market when I was down visiting my grandparents because a) ‘All The Young Dudes’ b) I’d heard they were a great band and c) boobs on the cover. True story. I took it home played it, grooved to ‘ .. Dudes’, didn’t find much else to my satisfaction, went back to Faster Pussycat.
I just wasn’t ready.
Nowadays, ‘All The Way From Memphis’ is one of my favourite songs ever and there are a few other great tracks hereabouts too, although I know the real riches are to be found on the individual LPs which I’m slowly accumulating, because money. Still a Greatest Hits is usually a good primer for a band, as is this, despite the absence of all the properly unhinged stuff you need to scour the likes of Mad Shadows for and despite the fact that even here there are a couple of bona fide duds.
But back to the opener ‘All The Way From Memphis’, superficially a tale of Mick Ralph’s lost guitar but it becomes so much cleverer than that, behind the rollicking rock and roll are more shots of witty world-weariness from Hunter, my favourite being ‘You look like a star but you’re still on the dole’. It’s just a perfect tune and the blasts of sax from Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay are the icing on the cake. Try and stay still when this is blasting, I can’t.
Yeah it’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll
From the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl
Inspired, I took a walk down to the docks at lunchtime today – the Hollywood Bowl being a touch further away than I could get to in an hour and listened to it there. 70’s rock and roll fizz just doesn’t get much better than Mott on this form, ‘Now its a mighty long way down the dusty trail / And the sun burns hot on the cold steel rails’, pure poetry.
Side 1 of Greatest Hits is where you’ll flip between the slightly schizophrenic ‘Honaloochie Boogie’, the over-Bowified ‘Hymn For the Dudes’, the jail-baiting ‘Born Late 58’ and, of course the best Bowie song never sung by the man himself, ‘All The Young Dudes’, which as every TV producer worth their salt knows is strong enough to evoke a whole decade in a single bar. Talk about perfect pop. Produced by Bowie, who also sings back ups and plays some rhythm guitar on it, the Hoople just lend this stately sci-fi elegy some proper rock roughness around the edges – the version with Bowie on vocals just doesn’t have big enough bollocks.
I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with ‘Roll Away the Stone’ sometimes it just sounds too posed and Rocky Horror Picture Show for my tastes and other times it will just click into place for me. Not so ‘Foxy Foxy’ which is a swampy slice of cod-Phil Spector mush with no discernible merit – why Mott? there are so many better tracks in your back catalogue. I get slayed by ‘Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ every time, the band really smoke on this one and Hunter’s vocals are gruffly perfect, Ariel Bender is credited with playing ‘loony guitar’ and I can see where they’re coming from there. last of all is the extraordinary ‘Saturday Gigs’, a hymn to their fans, their own oral history and yet more wry commentary on what a daft lark it all was,
Oh, Seventy-three was a jamboree
We were the dudes and the dudes were we.
Did you see the suits and the platform boots?
(oh dear, oh boy, …)
I can’t think of another band who chronicled their own history as compulsively as Mott the Hoople did and with less of a sense of self-aggrandisment, it really is a massive part of their charm.
So there we have it a platter of riffs preserved in aspic which I suspect won’t have too much relevance to my Saturday night, other than as a reminder of the wit and charm of the singer of a very good band. Dale Griffin, yet another casualty of 2016, was such a good drummer with a real swing about him^, Mick Ralphs who, as the liner notes put it, ‘fell into Bad Company’ when Mott disbanded needs no hyping and I never think Hunter got enough credit for some thumping piano here and there too^^; mind you not that Ariel Bender, who replaced Ralphs was a sign of the band trading down.
If you like rock and roll you’ll love some of Greatest Hits and if you’ve got a taste for a shovel full of glam and irony then you’ll take even more of it to heart too, dance away your cares until the music stops. Cue it up to hear Hunter spin tall tales of Mott the Hoople swaggering, carousing and regretting more than we’ll ever need to. Let’s head back to ‘Ballad …’ again, after all I am stuck on it, these guys have suffered for us, the least we can do is enjoy it:
Buffin lost his child-like dreams
And Mick lost his guitar
And Verden grew a line or two
And Overend’s just a rock’n’roll star
Behind these shades the visions fade
As I learn a thing or two
Oh but if I had my time again
You all know just what I’d do.
708 (very) Down.
*a rather rational disgust with my own species.
**10 February 1989, I know you 1537-ettes go wild for details like that.
^producer of almost too many Peel Sessions to mention, along with Hanoi Rocks Back To Mystery City (with Mott bassist Overend watts).
^^Welsh Bee Gee keyboard dude Blue Weaver also cropped up briefly in the band.