I’ve been a fan of Mott the Hoople for a long time. I thought I knew the band. I was wrong. This documentary is fascinating and is, in effect, the history of the band; as told by the band, its manager, its supporters and its fans. There’s a lot of great stuff here.
I always found Mott to be a group of hard rockin’ Brits … and they were. But I’ve learned they were conflicted in their direction and actually tried to end it all before realizing their biggest hit. Mott was a juggernaut and landed, exploded and imploded all in five years.
The group (sans Ian Hunter) came to the attention of Island Records’ producer Guy Stevens. Stevens was auditioning bands to fill a need. He’d been in prison on drug charges in 1968 and read a novel about an eccentric who works in a circus freak show. The book was called “Mott the Hoople.” Guy Stevens was an eccentric who, even though he worked for the establishment, held it in contempt. He liked the band that auditioned for him but insisted on a new singer. Enter Hunter. Stevens, much like the character in the book, challenged the band to be extreme. However, Stevens was also infatuated with Bob Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde and, essentially molded the band in that album’s image. I never knew that until now and it totally makes sense. The early Mott recordings sound very much Dylanesque.
Conflict arose between the band on vinyl and the band live. They were a circus freak show after all and their live shows were legendary. Heck, they were even banned for life from performing in the Royal Albert Hall for playing too loud and cracking the ceiling. Yet, their recordings were rather tame. Much like KISS a few years later and their first three albums, the band was not being accurately represented in the studio and after four albums in just two years the band decided to cut ties with Stevens and call it quits.
Enter David Bowie. Bowie was a fan of the band and enticed them to stay together by offering them “Suffragette City” off of his pending album. They turned him down. Not to be deterred, Bowie wrote them “All The Young Dudes” and offered to produce them. They agreed and a new chapter for Mott was underway and they effectively went from being Dylan wannabes to a Bowie/Kinks lovechild. Stevens would later produce The Clash’s London Calling using many of the same tactics he employed with Mott. Many regard him as a genius. Sadly, he took his own life in 1981.
It’s truly a fascinating story and well-represented on this “The Ballad Of…” In just five years, the band put out eight albums, toured the world several times, lost their keyboardist and had three seminal guitarists (Mick Ralphs, who left after the dudes album to form Bad Company; Luther Grosvenor, late of Spooky Tooth, AKA Ariel Bender; and Bowie’s own gunslinger Mick Ronson). Everyone associated with the band, with the exception of bassist Overend Watts participates in the interview segments. Others in the presentation include The Clash’s Mick Jones and Guy Steven’s widow. Bonus features include three songs from the original line-up’s 2009 reunion show in England and expanded interviews with many of the people featured in the documentary.