1972 was the turning point for Mott the Hoople. Having decided to throw in the towel after four poorly selling albums and multiple sold out tours, they wound themselves down by fulfilling their final commitments and casting their minds to the future. In search of a new gig, bass player Pete ‘Overend’ Watts called rising star David Bowie, to ask if he needed a new bass player. Apparently being quite happy with services of the splendidly sideboarded Trevor Bolder, Bowie offered to write Mott the Hoople a sure-fire hit single, on the understanding that they didn’t split up. That hit was “All the Young Dudes”.
Almost inevitably Mott the Hoople enjoyed the biggest hit single of their career with “All the Young Dudes”. It wasn’t all Bowie did for them either, as he put them in touch with his management, who in turn managed to lever them out of their unfavourable record deal with Island, and getting them signed to CBS. Bowie would also produce their next album, handily titled after the big hit single, talk them to cover Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and convince Ian Hunter that he should assume leadership of what had previously been a relatively democratic band.
Although not the most focused Mott the Hoople album, All The Young Dudes was effectively the turning point for the band. While Bowie’s production was a little bloodless, the band’s sheer determination and drive to be successful pushed the album to the next level. In addition to the two cover versions, it’s loaded with rocking gems like “Momma’s Little Jewel” and “One of the Boys”, which heralded back to their earlier albums. Perhaps underlining Bowie’s opinion that the spotlight should be primarily on Ian Hunter, the songs where Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen took sole writers credit were weaker numbers, though admittedly “Ready for Love” would find a new lease of life a few years later when Ralphs would leave Mott the Hoople to form supergroup Bad Company, where Paul Rodgers’ less idiosyncratic vocals served the song far better.
All the Young Dudes closes with “Sea Diver”, one of Hunter’s most heart-rending songs. As great as his straight ahead rockers have been down the decades, Hunter’s way with a ballad has been vastly underrated. Be it “I Wish I Was Your Mother”, “Rose” or “Waterlow”, his ballads are unparalleled and “Sea Diver” is among his very best.
As breakthrough albums go, All the Young Dudes could be viewed as a little contrived, but then, given its genesis, how could it avoid that? Sure Mott would go on to record better albums, but none would be as vital as this.