Mott the Hoople: Mott the Hoople

MAY 1970 (42 YEARS AGO)
Mott the Hoople: Mott the Hoople is released.
# Allmusic 4/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Mott the Hoople is the self-titled debut album by Mott The Hoople, released  in late November 1969 by Island Records in the UK, and in May 1970 by Atlantic Records in the US.
From the brilliant cover illustration by M.C. Escher to what nearly every critic called a “straightfaced” version of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me” (as though it was impossible to perform it any other way), Mott The Hoople’s debut album showed that they were clearly no ordinary post-psychedelic British band. Their original material, particularly guitarist Mick Ralph’s “Rock And Roll Queen,” presaged the glam sound for which they would later become renowned. Appropriately, Mott The Hoople was produced by the inventive (and seriously whacked) Guy Stevens.
Stevens, the group’s initial mentor and guide, wanted to create an album that would suggest Bob Dylan singing with the Rolling Stones. This was partially achieved, with the album including several Dylanesque cover versions along with aggressive rock originals. Years later, vocalist Ian Hunter – who had only just joined the band prior to Mott the Hoople’s recording and had yet to play live with them – would insinuate, in an August 1980 Trouser Press magazine interview, that the Stones’ 1971 track “Bitch” bore more than a passing resemblance to this album’s “Rock and Roll Queen.”
An instrumental version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” introduces the album, though a vocal version was recorded and is available on Mott’s compilation release Two Miles From Heaven. Doug Sahm’s “At the Crossroads” (originally recorded by Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet in 1968) and Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” (originally issued by Sonny & Cher on their second full-length album in 1966, but without vocals from Cher) are suitably reminiscent of Bob Dylan, as is Hunter’s “Backsliding Fearlessly.”
Initial copies of the album were wrongly pressed with the song “The Road to Birmingham,” the B-side of their debut single, replacing “Rock and Roll Queen.”
Not so very long ago, some friends of mine circled a block for about five minutes while I tried to figure out which unreleased Dylan side we were listening to. I could have spared us the trouble if I’d been listening to the lyrics, which were those of Sonny Bono’s immortal protest classic “Laugh At Me.” And it wasn’t a Highway 61 outtake at all; it was Mott the Hoople.
Mott the Hoople is a synthetic rock band. By that I certainly do not mean that they’re phony. Rather, they have synthesized a whole body of Sixties rock into their own style — one which sounds like everybody while directly copying nobody. You can go through a song and say, for example, that “Backsliding Fearlessly,” starts with the Kinks’ “I Am Free” riff, the verse is composed of an English folksong and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” while the chorus is a sort-of “Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know).” But actually none of those statements is accurate, even though in some cases the “cop” is note-for-note. The band maintains their innocence when charged with theft, claiming that the instrumentation is similar (piano, organ, guitar, bass, drums — the same as the Band, Procol Harum, and the Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde bands) and that the studio they used made vocalist Ian Hunter sound like Dylan.
No, it’s a synthesis. A ten-month-old (three when this was recorded, but to that in a minute) British group playing Kinks, Sir Douglas, Sonny and Cher and themselves, and making it sound like Kinks, Dylan and Procol Harum. It’s beautiful because they are every bit as competent as their mentors (they don’t write lyrics as well as Dylan, but what the hell …) and yet come off with an innocence that makes them very listenable. In fact, the best song on the album is “Rock and Roll Queen,” one they wrote themselves, and it is sung by lead guitarist Mick Ralphs, who sounds like nobody so much as Mick Ralphs. The chorus is very much like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and who could forget lyrics like “You’re just a rock and roll queen, you know what I mean/And I’m just a rock and roll star.”
There are a couple of throw-away cuts on the album, true — the instrumental version of “You Really Got Me” is not quite different enough from the original to warrant inclusion here, and the little jam-up “Wrath and Wroll” is nothing special. But the remainder of the album is unbelievably good. One might even find oneself growing nostalgic for the old Dylan while listening to it.
Mott the Hoople was fantastically talented at only three months old, when this album was recorded last July. I understand that they are presently recording their second. Atlantic seems to have this funny habit of sitting on albums they have rights to — I won’t embarrass them by telling you how long they sat on Fresh Cream — and they delayed this album for well over six months. Let’s hope that Mott the Hoople can keep up the good work and that Atlantic will let us know if they can a little sooner.
~ By Ed Ward (June 11, 1970)
“You Really Got Me” (Ray Davies) 2.55
“At the Crossroads” (Doug Sahm) 5.33
“Laugh At Me” (Sonny Bono) 6.32
“Backsliding Fearlessly” (Ian Hunter) 3.47
“Rock and Roll Queen” (Mick Ralphs) 5.10
“Rabbit Foot and Toby Time” (Mick Ralphs) 2.04
“Half Moon Bay” (Mick Ralphs, Ian Hunter) 10.38
“Wrath and Wroll” (Guy Stevens) 1.49
2003 CD bonus tracks
“Ohio” (Neil Young) 4.26
“Find Your Way” (Mick Ralphs) 3.30


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