Mott The Hoople

Columbia, 1974

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Mott The Hoople’s final album Live is one of those discs that’s greater than the sum of its parts, or some other equally tired-sounding reviewer cliché.  The point is, if we’re honest about it, the history surrounding Live is at least as interesting and dramatic as anything on the album itself.

Five years and many changes down the road, the quintet that Ian Hunter was the last founding member to join had been left almost entirely in his creative hands.  And while that responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders -- as his hospitalization for exhaustion at the end of his tenure with Mott would attest -- he didn’t go down without a fight.

Live features a handful of songs from two different shows taken from The Hoople tour of 1973-74.  The first half (a.k.a. side one) plucks five songs from the group’s historic May 1974 performances at New York’s Uris Theater, the first rock and roll residency ever held on Broadway.  The second half (a.k.a. side two) features just three cuts -- one a 16-minute medley -- from the group’s notorious December 14, 1973 date at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, a gig that descended into utter chaos as the house manager tried to bring the curtain down on Mott’s encore of “Walking With A Mountain,” only to end up in an onstage wrestling match with the group’s manager as the band played on, into the teeth of a virtual riot of roadies, house security and fans.

Both Queen and Aerosmith opened for Mott on The Hoople tour chronicled here and both were openly influenced by the group’s over-the-top theatrics and total commitment to the song.  And that exuberant embrace of rock and roll excess comes bleeding through your speakers on this album, but much like the band itself, the energy and purity of intention isn’t always enough to rescue the whole thing from the anarchy at its core.

The New York cuts are highlighted by the piledriving opener “All The Way From Memphis,” which sets the stage beautifully but perhaps overpromises.  “Sucker” follows, a relatively obscure track that you wouldn’t really expect to see included in such an edited-down version of a Mott show… and then you get an otherwise unreleased six-minute piano ballad (“Rest In Peace”)…!  Evidence, if nothing else, of the consequences of their label’s refusal to issue a double LP as the band intended, or even to include any tracks from The Hoople here.  “All The Young Dudes” and “Walking With A Mountain” at least do appear finishing off the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 New York set, and they’re everything you’d want them to be, firmly delivered and winning a frenzied response from the crowd.

The London side kicks off nicely with a sharp, heavy “Sweet Angeline” but then segues into the rather forgettable “Rose,” a B-side from the Mott sessions.  In a word, huh?  The big medley redeems things quickly, though, as the band storms through Mott’s “Jerkin’ Crocus,” “One Of The Boys,” “Rock’n’Roll Queen” and “Violence,” throwing in snippets along the way of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” the Beatles’ “Get Back,” David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” and the classic oldie “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Of the many oddities of this set, none is greater than the bizarre track list.  Two heretofore unreleased cuts on an eight-song live LP?  No recording of the terrific song whose performance is memorably pictured on the back cover of the album (“Marionette”)?  The infamous “riot edition” of “Walking With A Mountain” not included?  No “Hymn For The Dudes” or “Golden Age Of Rock’n’Roll” or “Roll Away The Stone” or “Sweet Jane”?  Ah, but there was a happy ending for listeners, if not for Mott itself.  The 30th anniversary edition of Live restored the bulk of both shows onto two full CDs, including all of the omitted tracks mentioned above.  It’s definitely the version you want!

As for the aforesaid unhappy ending for Mott, after the tour chronicled here, the group set about putting together a new single -- “Saturday Gigs,” the band’s final recording – in the process dispensing with second-generation guitarist Ariel Bender and bringing in former Bowie ax-slinger Mick Ronson, the third in a succession of stellar guitar players in the group.  Ronson’s tenure in the band was the briefest yet, though, as they held on just five months and 18 legendary gigs more, until Hunter, in New York to finalize the purchase of his new American home, was hospitalized for mental exhaustion.  Word came shortly that Hunter and Ronson would leave the group and begin work together on an Ian Hunter solo album, the formal launch of a musical partnership that would endure until Ronson’s untimely death in 1993.  [Editor/author’s note: This and many other aspects of the Mott story related in the reviews appearing here owe a great debt to Adrian Perkins and]

Remaining original members Overend Watts (bass), Dale (Buffin) Griffin (drums) and late arrival Morgan Fisher (keyboards) would unfortunately and unsuccessfully soldier on for a time under the shortened moniker Mott, pulling in whatever singers and guitarists would play along, but the ballad of Mott The Hoople truly ended when Hunter and Ronson departed in December 1974. 

I could spend another page here declaiming in bold and glowing tones all that the mercurial Mott meant to the scene they inhabited, their profound influence on the musical landscape of their era and the like, but they would probably hate that sort of thing.  They never wanted to be anything fancy; by their own admission none of them were even very good on their instruments when they began recording.  They were just a rock and roll band that -- all considerations of commercial success aside -- had an amazing run and left nothing behind on the stage when they walked off.  That was, and is, enough.

Rating: B+

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