Mott (July 20th 1973)
UK: 7 US: 35
It’s September 1972, Mott the Hoople has broken through with its first hit single, All the Young Dudes, along with its best selling album to date, although the album of the same name was not exactly a huge hit. Nevertheless, the show was on the road. What next?
What next was Island releasing a cash-in compilation called Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen, a short tour of the US under Bowie’s Mainman umbrella (during which Ian Hunter wrote the fine book Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star), and then some soul-searching in early 1973.
January 1973 was a difficult month. Verden Allen, or “Phally” as he was known, got so frustrated with his role in the band that he quit, after some awkward and tense incidents on tour.
Bowie and his manager Tony Defries may have rescued the band, but it turned out that they were not all that interested in continuing to nurture it – or perhaps they simply had enough other things to do. Another theory is that Mott were too good and in danger of outshining the “main man”. The idea of Mott taking Bowie’s Drive in Saturday as a follow-up single was mooted but then scrapped, and the band parted ways with Bowie’s crew.
There was financial uncertainty, and Mott signed with a new management company, H&H Enterprises.
In February 1993 Mott started recording its next album, Mott, at a studio in London’s Oxford Street. But who would be the producer? Several names were mentioned, but in the end the band decided to self-produce. On 25 May CBS released a single from the sessions, Honaloochie Boogie, which did rather well, reaching number 12 in the UK charts, and preparing the way for the release of Mott in July 1973.
The original sleeve in the UK was a gatefold with a cut-out face (a bust of a roman emperor) backed by cellophane so you could see part of the inside through the face. Pretty expensive. Another variation featured the cut-out without the cellophane. It was replaced by a non-gatefold sleeve with a simple image of the face on a pink and white background. In the US an entirely different cover was used.
The album, as it turned out, was a triumph. Everything came together, and although there was tension between Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs over who was leading the band, this didn’t spoil the result and may even have enhanced it.
All the Way from Memphis opens the album, is both a curious story about a guitarist losing his instrument, and Hunter’s celebration of the band making it at last. “Memphis” refers to the final concert of the US tour, at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis on 22 December 1972. I always thought the lyric should say “all the way to Memphis” but that’s probably because I don’t understand it.
More important, it’s a great tune with interesting sax from Andy MacKay and a driving rhythm.
Whizz Kidd might almost be my favourite on this album. It opens with what sounds like a female purr. Then some powerful guitar riffs from Raphs, then piano backing as Hunter sings about a woman. There’s a curious section where Hunter nicks a like from Britain’s National Anthem “send you victorious, happy and glorious”.
Hymn for the Dudes is a ballad credited to Hunter and Allen, though Allen does not perform on the album. It was first recorded in October 1972, but redone for the album, according to the band’s biographer Campbell Devine. It’s another song about the band’s history. The lyric is somewhat obscure (“sweet instant Christian, you are such a sly clown”), but powerful. The end section might be a swipe at Bowie. “Go tell the superstar all his hairs are turning grey … star spangled fear, all the people disappear … you ain’t the nazz, you’re just a buzz, some kinda temporary”. But it’s more a matter of Hunter’s awareness of the frailty of fame and the fickleness of the public.
Honaloochie Boogie, mentioned above, is to me the weakest track on the album, despite its success. Catchy but not as interesting as the other songs.
Violence is intriguing. Devine says it is “meant to be a parody of the group’s anger and frustration”. The song is credited to Hunter and Ralphs and is genuinely disturbing, complete with loony strings adding to the menace. Hunter reflects that “Violence was the crunch between Mick and me … it was supposed to be a maddening song.”
I always assumed that the D H Lawrence poem on the rear sleeve, “if you make a revolution, make it for fun,” is meant to be taken alongside Violence to lighten the tone.
Drivin’ Sister, also credited to Hunter/Ralphs, is a lightweight but fun number, apparently based on a real-life wild car journey with Guy Stevens, hence Half Moon Bay on the 8-track.
Ballad of Mott (26th March 1972 Zurich) is another reflection on the band’s journey. The date referenced in the title is the concert where the band decided to break up. It’s a downbeat song but not depressing, maybe because the song’s crescendos belie the lyric, and because it ends up finding some sort of redemption in rock ‘n’ roll.
Note that this was performed on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus tour which followed Zurich, so it is a relatively old song.
I’m a Cadillac is the only song credited solely to Ralphs. This explains why it lacks the psychological drama Hunter injects into his songs. It’s a fine song though, not quite Thunderbuck Ram or Ready for Love, but enjoyable.
I wish I was your Mother closes the album. It’s another complex song from Hunter as he wrestles with his feelings for a woman, probably his girlfriend Trudi. The singer yearns for the close family he himself lacked, picturing himself rather oddly as her mother or father. Excellent song though.
What to say about Mott? It has hits, it has something of the old Mott’s dark side and tension, it has outstanding performances from the band, it has impassioned singing from Hunter.
Hunter dominates the songwriting more than ever, at least sharing credits on all but one of the songs. It is also notable how much the album is a reflection on the past, almost as if it is a chapter closing rather than opening. Since this is the last album with Mick Ralphs, in a way it is.
Wonderful album, just slightly spoilt for me by H Boogie.