Perhaps every generation needs their own Mott the Hoople. More than a cult band but something less than popular, not as good as their fans thought but not as bad as their detractors might have believed, Mott the Hoople was the bridesmaid to the late-60s/early-70s rock scene. They bounced around for a few years, released 4 albums, decided to split up. But they had an influential fan in David Bowie, who wrote them a song that is probably their most famous and which reignited their career, “All the Young Dudes.” That pushed them into the world of Glam Rock, a genre in which they never quite fit. Singer/songwriter Ian Hunter favored vocals that bordered on a bad Dylan imitation, somehow making them his own in the process. They glammed up their stage presence somewhat … nice clothes, platform shoes … but they continued to make basic classic rock. Hunter, though, had grown as a lyricist, and he blossomed on Mott, the follow up to the All the Young Dudes album.
Hunter and Mott were very self-referential (Hunter even wrote a tour diary, Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star, that detailed the boredom of touring). Mott is full of such references, and it doesn’t often sound like a band enjoying their success. In fact, guitarist Mick Ralphs left the band soon afterwards, forming Bad Company.
The album kicks of with “All the Way from Memphis,” a tale of a lost guitar on a tiring tour:
It’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll
As your name gets hot so your heart grows cold
And you gotta stay young, man, you can never be old
Side one closed with “Violence,” which apparently was the straw that broke the backs of Hunter and Ralphs (Hunter said “Try listening to that for three days, it’s murder”).
Side two included perhaps the most self-referential song of them all, “Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich).”
Rock’n’roll’s a loser’s game
It mesmerizes and I can’t explain
The reasons for the sights and for the sounds
They saved the most remarkable song for last. “I Wish I Was Your Mother” isn’t just a heartbreaking song about a love that has passed, it is lyrically stunning. When most hard rock bands want to get sensitive, they offer up a power ballad full of bombast and hot geetar solos. Hunter goes in another direction.
I wish I was your mother, I wish I'd been your father
And then I would have seen you, would have been you as a child
Played houses with your sisters and wrestled with all your brothers
And then who knows, I might have felt a family for a while
I wish I could give you the original, as I have done with the other songs, but I can’t find it anywhere on YouTube. So I’ll give you two other live performances, one with Hunter and Mick Ronson, the other a fine cover by Alejandro Escovedo.