All the Young Dudes
Released Sept 8 1972
UK: 21 US: 89
14 May 1972. Mott the Hoople goes into Olympic Studios in London to record All the Young Dudes and the B side One of the Boys with David Bowie. It’s a secret session, because Mott is still signed to Island Records.
Through June and July the band continues recording the All the Young Dudes album with Bowie producing, this time at Trident studios again in London.
According to Campbell Devine, Bowie originally planned to contribute more material to the album but felt that he didn’t need to because the band’s own material was so strong. He did get the band to cover Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane, even getting Reed into the studio to record a “guide vocal.”
The single was released in July 1972, reaching no 3 in the UK and 37 in the US. A hit at last.
David Bowie was an inspirational producer, but that was about all he had in common with Guy Stevens. He had a strong influence on the album, insisting that he mix the tracks on his own. Despite the band’s general happiness in being provided with a hit single and a fresh start, they were not altogether happy with the resulting album. Bowie made the album rather thin-sounding, especially tracks like Sucker and Jerkin’ Crocus which sounded more powerful in the studio than in the eventual release.
The album sounds more polished than any of the Island LPs, which is both good and bad. It is a great record, but some of the essence of Mott has been tamed.
Sweet Jane is a great opener, Reed’s song from Loaded (Velvet Underground) taken at pace. Hunter singing seems to take-off Reed but without descending into parody. The riff is fantastic.
Momma’s Little Jewel – a new version of Black Scorpio, recorded shortly after Brain Capers for a possible single.
All the Young Dudes – Bowie’s song that could have been on Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. It was a remarkable giveaway for sure. But what is the song about? In Ziggy’s world it is something to do with the kids breaking free in the last days of the earth; it’s not an easy song to understand.
To Mott though it was a youth anthem. Ian Hunter added a rap section at the end in which he pretends to lust after someone in the audience; it’s comical but earned the band an immediate gay following.
According to Devine the final part of the rap where Hunter says “I’ve wanted to do this for years. How do you feel?” is a dig at Island and refers to having a hit single.
Whatever the song is about, it is catchy, anthemic, powerful and evocative. The “television man” says we’re “juvenile delinquent wrecks” but we’re not, we’re DUDES!
In the original, Wendy steals clothes from “Marks and Sparks”, a reference to the retailer Marks and Spencer. The BBC apparently refused to play the single lest it be considered advertising (how bizarre!). Therefore Hunter re-recorded a snippet of the vocal, making it “unlocked cars.” This version was used for a time by the BBC, and on the first pressing of the US single. Bowie normally performed the song with “unlocked cars,” but for Mott and Hunter the “Marks and Sparks” version won out.
Sucker is also an odd song, with a sort of horror film lyric, backed with hand claps and Bowie’s ethereal backing vocals.
Jerkin’ Crocus is a more conventional Hunter rocker about a dominant female. “I know what she want, a judo hold on a black man’s balls.” Thanks Ian. Some nice guitar work.
One of the Boys is a Hunter/Ralphs rocker with some special effects from Bowie – a telephone dialling sound opens the track (what will future generations make of this noise?) and more telephone effects in the middle of the song. Lyrically this one seems straightforward. “I’m one of the boys … I don’t say much but I make a big noise”. Don’t listen to the lyrics though; just enjoy the pounding rhythm.
Soft Ground is maybe organist Verden Allen’s finest moment. No more Dylan-esque fairground organ; this is a heavy song with lots of interesting noises, great Bowie backing vocals, and apparently about Allen’s frustration with not knowing what was going on with the band. “Too many mouths arguing over nothing. It’s hard to get around.”
Ready for Love/After Lights is another highlight, this time from Ralphs. Perhaps better known in the Bad Company version on their first album, but I prefer Mott’s take. Ralphs is lead vocalist on most of the song, but Hunter sings some parts. No mystery to the lyrics here. The song segues into After Lights, an instrumental coda. “A kind of drifting off into dreamland type thing,” said Ralphs, “I used the echoplex for the effect on the guitar.”
Sea Diver is a Hunter ballad to close the album, based on the unreleased Ride on the Sun recorded after Brain Capers. Appropriate for Mott the Hoople: “Something dies before it grows.” Allen, quoted in Devine’s book, claims the song is a somewhat sad reflection on how the band needed Bowie to find success, “I’m like a sea diver who’s lost in space,” being a reference to the Starman.
My copy of the LP always had some inner-groove distortion on Sea Diver so I was glad to get the CD.
The sleeve shows three well-dressed “dudes”. The band thought it was “dull and boring” according to Griffin, “a typical seventies browny sort of cover.” I rather like it.
Overall I think this is a fascinating album. It’s a heavy album, rock rather than pop; subsequent albums would have a lighter touch. Sometimes it is my favourite Mott the Hoople album; but it is a matter of mood. It’s odd that Bowie toned down the band’s capacity to rock out, when this is one of the things he liked about them. Ready for Love vies with Thunderbuck Ram for Mick Ralphs’ best Mott the Hoople song.
There is perhaps a mis-match between the title song and the rest of the album. You could understand that someone buying the album in search of more of the same would be disappointed.
Nevertheless, this was the turning point between the under-appreciated Mott the Hoople with a fanatical live following, to the more successful band associated with glam. Highly recommended.