CBS 69062 March 1974
UK: 11 US: 28
Despite hit singles and their bestselling (and most warmly received) album to date, Mott the Hoople in the aftermath of the Mott release was in flux. The band had already lost keyboard player Verden Allen. He was replaced after the recording of Mott by Morgan Fisher, former member of the Love Affair, who joined the band for a tour of the USA in July and August 1973 and then became a permanent member.
The gig in Washington on 19th August was the last with Mick Ralphs. Ralphs says, quoted in Campbell Devine’s book on the band: “I’d started writing songs and didn’t think they would fit in the vehicle known as Mott the Hoople. Also, as much as were having success, the success was because we were writing songs like ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ and we’d lost a bit of the wildness … we’d had success but there was a different feeling in the band and it was time for me to move on.”
Ralphs went off to form Bad Company with Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell. While Mott lost a great guitarist and a good songwriter, Bad Company proved to be a great band and more successful than Mott, especially in the USA, so Ralphs made a good decision. In a sense there was no longer room for Ralphs and Hunter in the same band.
In search of a guitarist, the band picked on Luther Grosvenor from Spooky Tooth, a former Island Records stablemate. He adopted the new stage name Ariel Bender, which according to Devine was originally thought up by singer Lynsey de Paul for Mick Ralphs. He rehearsed with the group briefly before heading off to the USA for the second half of the band’s tour. Then the band returned to tour the UK.
This period was when the band was at its most successful, with chart records and big concerts. In November 1973 they had another hit with Roll Away the Stone, recorded during the Mott sessions.
In January the band recorded The Hoople at Advision Studios. There were some issues. Dale Griffin (Buffin) says: “It was a ghastly experience. Wrong studio, wrong engineer, country in crisis, strikes, electricity cut offs, petrol shortage, Bender oddly disconnected, not enough songs…”
Bender was charismatic on stage and good at power chords but the band found he lacked creativity in the studio, accounting for greater use of keyboards on the album overall.
Despite the above, the album is not bad. I mean, it does have two strong singles (Golden Age and Roll away the stone), the crazy and wonderful Marionette, the rollicking Alice and the tender ballad Trudi’s Song.
It is not the equal of Mott though and Ralphs is missed. It sounds like something recorded in a hurry, as indeed it was. The band’s incessant touring is no doubt partly to blame.
The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll – a protest song about the “96 decibel freaks” who wanted to impose noise limits on rock concerts, apparently directed at Leeds City Council. The song swings along nicely and I prefer it to Honaloochie Boogie, but it’s not the band’s finest moment for sure. Hunter thinks it was not release-ready.
Marionette is my favourite track here. Hunter says it is a “mini-opera”, a sort of shorter, snappier take on concept albums like the Who’s Tommy. It is something to do with the pressure the music industry puts on its stars. Fun sound effects.
Alice is another one I enjoy. Lots of word play:
Keep a watch on your watch and a watch on her watch
‘cause if you ain’t too careful he’s gonna kick you in the crotch
The band found it excessively wordy though and rarely performed the song live.
Crash Street Kids is a kind of follow-up to Violence, though less menacing to my ears, about street riots. I recall the Bash Street Kids being a comic strip in the Beano which may have been part of the inspiration.
Born Late 58 is a song by Overend Watts about a car/girl. It was recorded entirely without Ian Hunter. OK but nothing special.
Trudi’s Song is Hunter’s tender song to his wife. It’s a great song though Buffin complains that it was really a solo song not a Mott the Hoople song. Not a problem as far as I’m concerned.
Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England) is a song of its time – bear in mind that in 1974 England was rather a depressing place with recession, industrial unrest and high unemployment. “Now I’ll tell you something, it seems to me that the rich dudes live in the sun.”
Through the Looking Glass is about looking in the mirror and not liking what you see, a Hunter reflection with quiet verses and a crescendo in the chorus. There’s an alternate version with a sweary close that the band apparently did as a joke, but which can be heard in all its glory on the compilation The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective.
Roll Away the Stone exists in two distinct versions, the original single version from the band that recorded Mott, and the album version with Ariel Bender on lead guitar. Apparently the later version is a an overdub rather than a completely different session. The single version sounds much better though.
One thing that has long puzzled me is that on the album version there is obvious distortion (sounds like tape damage) at 2.04 or thereabouts, during the spoken section “ooh will do”. Surely this a fault and should never have slipped through? The single version is perfect.
The Hoople is not a terrible album but has not worn well, and in some ways I’d describe it as the weakest of the band’s career, even though it sold well at the time. It is also lightest; pop rather than rock perhaps. That said, some of the songs are excellent and the album is fast-paced and entertaining.
At the time, few guessed that it was the last studio album the band would ever make.