Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29: Mott The Hoople, "All The Young Dudes"

Artist: Mott The Hoople
Song: "All The Young Dudes"
Album: All The Young Dudes (single)
Year: 1972

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During periods of almost excessive musical creativity, it is somewhat understandable that a band here and there somehow "slip" through the cracks of history and their efforts become largely forgotten.  However, when such a band was exceptionally unique for their era, and was able to garner a significant amount of commercial success, such circumstances can be ignored, and it becomes puzzling how their accomplishments are overshadowed as the decades pass.  This happened to a number of bands as the 1960's transitioned into the 1970's and music seemed to explode in countless different directions, but more than forty years after their debut, it remains baffling to consider the lack of credit that is given to the sound and attitude found in the music of Mott The Hoople.  Fusing together the early workings of heavy metal, glam rock, and traces of punk, one can easily argue that without their songs, the biggest musical breakthroughs of the 1970's simply would not have occurred.  With seven brilliant releases before calling it a career, the band has fallen into the category of "oh, that's who sings that song?" as a number of their singles continue to receive significant airplay to this day.  Due to this high number of "classic" songs, it is hard to point to just one as their finest moment, but one would be hard pressed to find a more defining moment in the bands career than one can experience in Mott The Hoople's pivotal 1972 single, "All The Young Dudes."

From the very first notes of the song, the glam-rock elements of the song become the most clear, and yet one cannot ignore just how much the song seems to sound like the work of another famous artist.  The latter of these two elements is of little surprise, as the song was both written by and produced by none other than David Bowie.  Yet while the connection to Bowie's other work of that time period is clear, it never sounds as if Mott The Hoople is "borrowing" or "copying" his sound, as they quickly establish the song and tone as their own.  The way in which the guitars of Mick Ralph instantly command the attention of the listener, before sliding into a more relaxed, yet somehow soaring guitars remains one of the most stunning moments in all of music history, and the aggression that comes forth and different times on the song helps to push it into a category all its own.  Along with Ralph's work, the perfectly toned, almost dancing organ work from Verden Allen is without question the musical highlight of the song, and the fact of the matter is, no other act in history has been able to achieve a similar tone.  It is the way in which these two sounds, combined with the rest of the band, manage to inject a swagger and attitude, whilst rarely showing the musical aggression that almost always comes with such a sound that makes "All The Young Dudes" such a unique work, and much the reason it has achieved an almost anthemic status as the years have passed.

However, while the band creates what is without question one of the greatest musical moments in history, the song simply would not have the sting it does without the vocal work of Ian Hunter.  It is his performance that highlights the swagger and edgy tone of "All The Young Dudes," and one can not only hear his own influences, but even in his singing here, one can quickly trace those who borrowed from his sound.  The link to the Bowie sound is again clear, but there are also moments on the song where Mott The Hoople clearly borrowed a bit from the British band that took over the world a decade previous.  However, though he certainly does not try to hide his influences, Hunter has his own sound and style, and it is the way in which he is able to work the entire vocal scale, mixing in all out rock excess with an almost "kid on the street" introspection that makes his sound so unique.  Yet it is the almost raw, unrestrained vocal sound he achieves that enables "All The Young Dudes" to almost demand the listener sings along, and there is an "everyman" accessibility to Hunter's vocals.  Even with all this in mind, "All The Young Dudes" happens to remain one of the more controversial songs when it comes to the themes within the lyrics, and many have interpreted it as a "nod" to the "rent" boys of the day.  Regardless of whether one reads the words as such, or takes them as a slam on industry of the time, it is impossible to forget the song, as the vocals of Ian Hunter quickly grab the listener and keeps them engaged the entire song.

Almost from the moment it was released, "All The Young Dudes" was a massive, almost iconic hit across the globe.  Perhaps due to the way in which the band was breaking new musical ground, or maybe simply due to the absolutely amazing swagger within Ian Hunter's performance, even to this day, few artists have been able to match the overall mood of the song.  Even Bowie himself would tour with the song, and yet even the songs' writer could not match Mott The Hoople's iconic performance.  In the years that followed, the iconic status of "All The Young Dudes" was further cemented by the wide range of cover versions, with everyone from Ozzy Osborne to Tesla to Smashing Pumpkins recording their own take on the track.  One must also point to The Clash's "All The Young Punks" as a clear nod to Mott The Hoople, a band they often cited as a massive influence on their own sound.  Strangely, even with all of these covers and accolades from their peers, Mott The Hoople remains a somewhat "second tier" band in the eyes of most critics, and yet without their recordings, there is no way that music develops in the way that it has since their time.  The way in which they fuse the glam-rock sound with a harder edge, and yet retain elements of psychedelia remains completely unique, and though many have tried to match there sound, there is simply no other song in history that can compare to Mott The Hoople's magnificent 1972 single, "All The Young Dudes."

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