The album All The Young Dudes occupies the critical turning point in the Mott The Hoople story. The patronage of Ziggy-era David Bowie and its importance to the band cannot be understated. Ground under the wheels of the music business, they had packed it in until Bowie rallied them back from the brink by giving them the title song – a classic that would define the second leg of their career – and also offering to produce.
More importantly, Bowie got his then-manager Tony DeFries to untangle the band from their debt-laden contract with Island Records so they could sign a new contract with Columbia Records. Not only did this make it possible for the band to continue as a recording act, it also gave them the backing they would need to pursue the brief but eventful path that would bring them their greatest success.
Despite doing all these important things, All The Young Dudes is a divisive album for the Mott fanbase. The big reason for this is that Bowie’s production gives the band a thorough sonic makeover, replacing the devil-may-care experimentation and the runaway-train, one-take performances of old with a more subdued, carefully-layered sound that aimed for the pop charts. Raving rock is replaced with a kind of coiled intensity.
Some fans reject All The Young Dudes out of hand for this approach but to do so is to miss the bedrock for the two fan-beloved albums that followed, Mott and The Hoople. There is heaviness here, but it’s less about sounding heavy and more about feeling heavy: power chords and frenetic tempos are traded for a more about a theatrical expression of ominous, adult themes. In short, the pre-punk ravers of the Island years are transforming into the glam-rock thespians of the Columbia era.
Consider the lustiness of “Momma’s Little Jewel” and “Jerkin’ Crocus” or “Sucker,” a darkly witty exploration of sadomasochism. They draw on the depth of the band’s musicianship to create an atmosphere, with Hunter taking on an appropriately actorly shading and complexity to his vocals. “One Of The Boys” was originally recorded at the end of the group’s Island contract like a few other numbers here but it presents the group’s no-nonsense rock side with a new sense of control and pacing. Whatever immediacy might be lost is replaced by new levels of dimension in presentation that are just as rewarding.
But there are other delights here that develop the band’s sound in other directions. For example, “Ready For Love/After Lights” would soon be re-recorded to great success by writer/guitarist Mick Ralphs in his subsequent band Bad Company but the version here has a lightness of touch and a unique coda that distinguishes it. Organist Verden Allen also contributes a memorably quirky/artsy piece, “Soft Ground,” that has an almost Alice Cooper Band feel to it. Equally worthy of mention is “Sea Diver,” a cryptic, piano-led ballad that conveys an astonishing depth of bitter sorrow from Hunter and also boasts a stunning strings-and-horns arrangement from then-Bowie cohort Mick Ronson, who would later become a crucial partner in crime for Hunter in his solo career.
And it goes without saying the Bowie-penned title track is one of the masterpieces of the glam rock era, a song that captures its era with cinemascope detail and a rousing, emotional quality that suits Mott’s style beautifully. It’s also Hunter’s best outlet for his more crafted, theatrical vocal style on this album and he gives one of his finest recorded performances on it. Bowie could have given this song to anybody (or kept it for himself) but Mott sells its narrative of a brotherhood of outcasts with a sincerity and depth of feeling that no other band could.
In summation, don’t let anyone talk you into writing this off as a transitional album bolstered by an outside writer’s hit. All The Young Dudes is the work of a band redefining itself in a way that bolsters their core attributes while building out their abilities to take on new challenges. It’s got plenty to offer the band’s fans beyond its title-track hit and repeated listens allow you to appreciate the depth of the band’s understated approach.