Produced by the same production team who assembled Love Story, the story of Arthur Lee and Love, The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople is just that, the story of one of the most underappreciated bands ever to grace a stage. The fact that they tended to shoot themselves in the foot at just about every opportunity didn’t help. But, they did make some of the finest rock & roll of the early 70s, including one bona-fide classic, 1973’s Mott album.
Full disclosure time here…Mott The Hoople has been my favourite band since 1972, when I happened to be in Londonduring the rein of glitter-rock and Mott’s All The Young Dudes (written and produced by David Bowie) was storming the charts. I saw them live the next year and travelled toLondon in 2009 to catch all 5 of their reunion shows. You can listen to a 30 min. radio show about those reunion shows here.
So, I will try to be somewhat unbiased here. This film was begun a year before the Mott reunions took place and covers the band’s short, but eventful career from 1969 to 1974. It begins with the usual archival footage and shots of black & white still photographs detailing how the five members of the group came together during the late 60s. For the record they are Mick Ralphs (guitar), Pete (Overend) Watts (bass), Verden (Phally) Allen (organ), Dale (Buffin)Griffin(drums) and Ian Hunter (lead singer, rhythm guitar and piano).
But the most colourful personality from the band’s early days was producer Guy Stevens. A manic, possible manic-depressive, pill-popping, lunatic, Guy was a staff producer for Island Records and was on the lookout for a band that could combine the lyricism of Bob Dylan with the rock & roll energy of The Rolling Stones. When he introduced Ian Hunter to the four other musicians he had just signed….Mott The Hoople was born. The name came from Stevens as did much of their early rock & roll attitude. Usually it’s the producer who has to control the band’s wild ways in the studio, but with Stevens, the opposite was true. He would do anything to create the appropriate “mood” including setting the studio on fire.
The band recorded four albums forIsland, gaining a reputation for their wild live shows, but record sales didn’t follow. They split up in early 72 after a disastrous gig inSweden.
That would have been the end of the story, except that David Bowie had become a big fan. He dangled the promise of a hit record in front of them and they reunited to record All The Young Dudes.
Even more surprising, their next album, entirely self-produced, 1973’s Mott, was the jewel in the band’s crown. Hunter’s songwriting managed to capture the ups and downs and the sheer passion of being in a rock & roll band with songs like All The Way From Memphis, Violence, Drivin’ Sister and The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople.
Of course just as they achieved commercial and artist success, things fell apart.
It’s all in the film, along with comments from fans like The Clash’s Mick Jones, Queen’s Roger Taylor and everyone from Mott exceptWatts, who declined to be interviewed.
The filmmaker do a fine job of telling the band’s story, there’s plenty of rare footage and the interview subjects, particularly Hunter, are eloquent. The only thing that’s missing is a real understanding of what made Mott such an incredible band. Maybe it’s impossible to describe. I know I have a hard time articulating what is so special about them.
So watch the film, then listen to the music. This is what rock and roll is all about.
Click here to watch a scene from The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople: