Bowie to the rescue
The story goes like this: Mott The Hoople were a great rock & roll band; adored by a small but loyal following, including a teenage Mick Jones of the Clash; they had released four studio albums since their formation and played hundreds of great gigs since their inception in 1968; but success continued to turn its back on them, indeed, it seemed increasingly clear that it was running away from them. Their last gig had been at a desolate petrol station in Switzerland for which they hadn't even made enough money to get back to England.
When they finally made it back, none of the band members gave a damn about their continuity, so bassist Pete Overend Watts offered himself to David Bowie, who was beginning to make a name for himself. He hadn't yet released Ziggy Stardust, but he was recording it and about to become a star with his appearance on Top Of The Pops, singing Starman. However the singer was a huge fans of Mott The Hoople and didn't want them to break up, so he offered them one of the songs he had for his new project. The song was Suffragette City but, incredibly, the band rejected it. This was February 1972, and the band’s main composers, singer Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs, hadn’t seen much success but had egos that were reluctant to accept other people's material, even though it was a song as great as that one.
But Bowie didn't give up, he met with the band and showed them a song he had written for them, All The Young Dudes. They all looked at each other as if he'd gone mad - nobody gives away a song that good! But there was Bowie, in his Ziggy Stardust image, handing them on a plate one of the most devastating choruses in history. So it was full steam ahead as Bowie volunteered as producer and brought in his right-hand man, Mick Ronson, to help with the arrengements. Bowie came up with the final arrangement, although it was Ralphs who came up with the perfect intro to Dudes, his best work to date. For this he used a Gibson Firebird and his simple style, totally in the service of the song, found its most perfect example.
The lyrics, designed to resonate in the ears of a new generation of post-Beatles and Stones teenagers, were perfect, with its nod to T. Rex and their perfect chorus to be sung in a gang. Glam rock had found its anthem, written by its leading light, but performed by a rock band with more in common with Jagger and Richards than Marc Bolan. Still, when it was released in late July 1972, three weeks after Bowie/Ziggy had become the biggest star in England at the time, it was an absolute hit, and Hunter, Ralphs and company began to embrace the Glam image.
Musically, though, they were still a great rock band without any extra adjectives or additives. This was evidenced by listening to the unstoppable One Of The Boys, composed by Hunter and Ralphs, in which the band exploded with power chords on Ralphs' guitar and the best vocal performance of the whole album by Hunter, sounding defiant and arrogant. All The Young Dudes makes it clear that even without Bowie's huge contribution, Mott the Hoople was a damn good rock & roll band.
Momma's Little Jewel was sexy rock with hot sax (courtesy of Bowie) and touches of piano from Hunter supporting the main riff. The cover of the Velvet's Sweet Jane, possibly another Bowie suggestion, was a marvel, not going to the strength of Lou Reed's live version, which would arrive a couple of years later, but the melancholy of the original version, without detracting at all from its tremendous power, with a great Ralphs and a plethoric Hunter. Sucker was dirty and depraved like the best rock & roll, talking about a sado-masochistic relationship, and had a bizarre and wobbly mandolin solo. While Jerkin' Crocus made its debt to the Stones clear as a great Brown Sugar style song.
Also featured here was the original version of Ralphs' Ready For Love, which he would later revive in his venture with Bad Company, but although its riff is just as effective (possibly played on his beloved Les Paul Junior), Ralphs' own vocal pales in comparison to Paul Rodgers'. The album closed on a melancholy note with the piano ballad Sea Diver, which benefits from an excellent string arrangement by Ronson, who would eventually replace Ralphs in the band's final period.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, All The Young Dudes was the album with which this great band, with admirers such as Bowie, Queen, Mick Jones, Noel Gallagher and R.E.M., finally found the success that seemed to elude them and entered the best phase of their career, which would be completed with their next two albums, their last, Mott and The Hoople. A trilogy totally recommendable for any lover of the best rock & roll.