Friday, November 07, 2008

Mott the Hoople – Mott the Hoople and Wildlife

Mott the Hoople made a name for themselves as a live act and while their albums, especially these early ones, are quite schizophrenic, moving from singer Ian Hunter’s quiet ballads to guitarist Mick Ralphs’ wild rockers (I am generalizing – they both wrote in both styles), I believe that they are known best for the wild r’n’r. The group had existed with another singer under the name Silence, but their producer convinced them to bring in Hunter with the idea of creating a band that sounded like Bob Dylan fronting the Rolling Stones.

The self-titled first album leans heavily on other people’s material, though they do a great job interpreting the songs and making them their own. Opening with their fairly manic take on the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, they prove that they have the power to shake and move you! Interestingly enough, this is presented as an instrumental, though they also recorded it with Ralphs’ singing. Not sure why they went with this one, but Ralphs’ guitar shines (as well as the rest of the band, especially organist Verden Allen) instead of his voice.

“At the Crossroads” was written by Doug Sahm (from the Sir Douglas Quintet and “She’s About a Mover” fame) and is a bit of a countryish folk rocker with Hunter doing his best Dylan impression. If anything, Ian has even a bit more of a growl to his tone than Bob does and in these early albums, his voice is a bit harsher than it became later.

They even cover Sony Bono with “Laugh at Me”, which sounds almost like an outtake from Bringing It All Back Home in Ian’s hands and with Allen’s organ tone. This just shows that Bono really was a fine songwriter! The record’s first original tune is Hunter’s “Backsliding Fearlessly” with shamelessly borrows from “The Times They are a-Changing”. A good song, but the similarities are undeniable.

Among their greatest early numbers is definitely Mick’s “Rock and Roll Queen”, one of the top riff-rockers of all time! This is also probably the first anti-groupie song! Ralphs really didn’t seem to care for these women, as he also wrote the scathing “Whiskey Women” for the Wildlife album. In any case, the slags were quite the muses for him as “RnR Queen” is one of the best songs he has ever written. High energy, catchy as hell, great solo and pure, perfect hard rock!

The extremely oddly named “Rabbit Foot and Toby Time” follows and is another cool Ralphs instrumental. This blends seamlessly into “Half Moon Bay”, a collaboration between Mick & Ian. Mixing their two styles, they come up with a more original sound – working with dynamics, they move from somewhat quieter sections to true heaviness.

Finishing off the album is a song credited to producer Guy Stevens called “Wrath and Roll”, which is simply an edit of the band jamming out the ending of “You Really Got Me” after the fade out! I guess it was credited to Guy because it was his idea, but it was the band’s music!

I always thought that Wildlife was the second album, but Mad Shadows actually falls between the two. But, Mad Shadows and Brain Capers go so well together, that it really seems odd that they weren’t recorded right after each other. But the first four albums were all released between 1969 and 1971, so they were all pretty close together.

Wildlife starts off with another Ralphs’ rocker, “Whiskey Women”. Power chords abound, but Mick sings a truly catchy melody, as well. After a couple of verses, they move into a tough riff-rocker with a fine, fierce organ solo.

Hunter seems to have a more romantic view of the ladies of the road as he wrote a tender ballad to the “Angel of Eighth Avenue” that he picked up in New York on their first tour. Mick bounds back in with “Wrong Side of the River”, an almost Neil Young-ish tune (who was a big enough influence on them that they covered “Ohio” shortly after it came out). This tune mixes cool guitar/key licks with quiet, almost country-ish melodies. Good stuff!

Hunter returns with a string-laden ballad in “Waterlow”. Nice and pretty, but not one of my personal faves. One that is a fave is their take on Melanie’s (the folk singer, not my wife!) “Lay Down”. I really dug her pre-“Brand New Key” folk songs and this one is given the Mott treatment – Hunter’s rasp and the full band pounding out the beat with cool backup singing. This is definitely a highlight of their early days!

By far the most country-rock influenced song Mott ever tackled is Mick’s “It Must Be Love”, complete with pedal steel guitar. Well written, but an oddity even for this band! I could imagine them thinking that this would be commercial, especially at the time, but it didn’t do anything for them.

Ian has another softer number in “Original Mixed Up Kid”, a precursor to his other autobiographical tunes like “Ballad of Mott the Hoople”. This also has a little bit of a country feel. Again, not bad, but not the best direction for this group. “Home is Where I Want to Be” is basically a Ralphs’ pop tune. Another number that is not very representative of the overall sound of this band.

They end with a live take on Little Richard’s “Keep a-Knockin’”, which shows how crazed their live shows were at the time. Updating this 50’s rocker as a hard rock number and throwing in Rolling Stones references and bits of other oldies seems to have really brought down the house for these cats! Good fun!

While not the best MTH LPs (in my opinion – those are Mad Shadows/Brain Capers and All the Young Dudes/Mott), these records show the evolution of the band and have some great songs. Well worth owning!

You Tube has lots of great videos, including "You Really Got Me", "At the Crossroads", "Keep a-Knockin'", and "Rock and Roll Queen".