Thursday, March 22, 2012
Ripple Theater - Ballad Of Mott The Hoople DVD
Against all odds, I've become a big fan of Mott The Hoople over the past few years. I always liked some of their songs but never bothered to explore their music in great depth because I never thought I'd really like it. I've never been a fan of Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones and both of those artists are big parts of the Mott sound. They have an association with one of my all time least favorites, David Bowie. But for some reason I was drawn to them and started checking out their first few albums that were released on Island Records. Probably had something to do with the fact that I've always loved the Dictators version of Mott's "Moon Upstairs" on their live album Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke. The original version is on a great album called Brain Capers that's become a real favorite of mine. In 2009 I was a guest on the Ripple radio show and wound up talking a lot about the Mott reunion with Ripple friend Bob Vinyl and his cousin who went to England to see one of the shows. So when in 2011 it was announced that the Ballad Of Mott the Hoople documentary was being released on DVD I couldn't wait to check it out. It was a pain in the butt to actually find in a store but the incredible Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ had it in stock.
The story of Mott is pretty unique in the history of rock n roll. Named and molded by insane record producer Guy Stevens, Mott The Hoople recorded 4 albums for Island Records between 1969 and 1971. Guy was impressed when guitarist Mick Ralphs burst into his office demanding an audition after waiting around hanging around for a few days. Guy was even more impressed when they lugged a massive Hammond organ up a couple flights of stairs to play for him. My band practices on the 3rd floor of a walk up. I can verify that doing something like this requires a HUGE commitment to your art. They didn't have much commercial success but attracted a rabid following for their high energy stage shows. The band decided to break up but were encouraged by David Bowie to continue and he offered his services as producer and gave them their first hit "All The Young Dudes." Bowie's manager had Mott wear glammy clothes and they finally achieved success.
All of the band members are interviewed and their honesty is very refreshing. It was Mick Ralph's idea to go in a country rock direction on the album Wild Life and he says that he wound up apologizing to the band for this mistake (Mild Life is how they refer to it). Ian Hunter's especially blunt and delivers some great quotes. Roger Taylor of Queen talks about how they gave Mott a run for their money when they opened for them. Ian says "we never had any problem following them." Some of the band members talk about how once they became popular that Ian became the leader of the band and it was no longer a democracy. Hunter's reply is "the band was always a democracy. That was the problem." I also really like how the band all agreed that it was great that Bowie helped them out but they wanted to get out from his shadow immediately. They dumped Bowie's manager and declined working with him as a songwriter or producer. Turns out they were right. The follow up album to …Dudes simply titled Mott was a bigger hit and contained even better songs. I've always thought "All The Way From Memphis" was a much better song than "All The Young Dudes." Watching the live footage of the band in their prime (wish there was more of it) made me realize why I liked the band so much. Even in their glam clothes Mott The Hoople was a kick ass band. It's obvious they were all real rock n rollers and were very confident on stage but never resorted to Jagger-esque pantomime. Watching bassist Pete "Overend" Watts is hilarious. It's obvious Pete Way of UFO got a lot of inspiration from him and we all know Steve Harris of Iron Maiden patterned his onstage persona on Way.
This DVD should be required viewing for anyone in a rock band. When Mick Ralphs presents Ian Hunter with a bunch of songs that Ian feels he's not capable of singing, Ralphs departs to form Bad Company. There were probably some hard feelings at the time but both of them agree that it was the best thing to happen to each of them. Rather than compromise, they moved on and Ralphs works with Hunter off and on to this very day. Replacement guitarist Ariel Bender is also honest in the fact that he rejuvenated the band on stage but fell short in the studio when it came time to write material. The DVD ends when Hunter departs on his solo career with Mick Ronson. The rest of the band got in some new members and carried on simply as Mott but not much is mentioned about that here. There could easily be another documentary about that bands sad demise along with Ian Hunter's career ups and downs. If you don't know much about Mott The Hoople this documentary will be very enlightening and entertaining. Ian Hunter is touring again in 2012 and is playing right in my own neighborhood at the end of March. He's in his early 70's but word has it is still putting on great shows. For an even more Mott The Hoople madness, check out the new issue of Shindig Magazine for a massive article in the current issue with some killer photos.