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Sid Vicious Died for This?

(The Golden Age of Rock and Roll: 1970-1978)

In this age of rock and roll as marketing plan, where various projects, aspiring to
product, willingly, nay, thankfully, subject themselves and their work to the corporate
gamut of classification, identification, codification, stratification, duplication and saturation
leading quite unceremoniously to expiration, it痴 easy to forget the time when a large part
of rock and roll痴 intent was education, edification and the formation of a new nation, born
of information and a bond beyond the listener and the radio station.
There was a time when the channels of communication between artist and audience
were wide open, and as a result, the artificial barriers erected between the artist and
audience were diminished to an extent not known before.. Yes, I知 talking about the 70's
and punk rock and, yes, I知 another old guy who misses his past, but I mourn not for
wasted youth, but for wasted opportunities. I知 reminded of a button my friend Rick
Neblung, of the avant-pop duo Neblung-Price wore to a Robyn Hitchcock show at Irving
Plaza recently. 的知 not getting old, the button read, 鍍he music was better!
Now, that痴 pretty much a grand and sweeping generalization, meaning it has some
truth to it, just not much. Besides, 澱etter, as regards the actual sound and construction of
any music of any time compared to another, is as subjective a call as one could be
expected to make. So, no, I知 not of the mind that there痴 been nothing worth listening to
since 1978. Where I find most more recent music (with some exceptions, which I値l get to in
due time) to be somewhat.lacking is in the spirit department. It痴 got a good beat, you can
dance to it, but what does it say about my life? What is it痴 intent, if any, beyond separating
me from my cash? Where lies it soul?
So, I find myself going back, ever farther anymore, into my CD, tape and actual vinyl
record collections to the halcyon days of disco, Vidal Sassoon, Charlie痴 Angels, platform
shoes, silk shirts and leisure suits. Back to the dread 70's, when the possibilities seemed
endless, and the ball was in the air.

One of the Boys: Mott the Hoople痴 Populist Dream

If you池e the type who gets hung up on who invented punk rock, there are worse cases
to be made than the one for Mott the Hoople. Loosely designed around the concept of
Bob Dylan fronting the Rolling Stones, these 5 Brits (Ian Hunter-vocal, piano guitar, Mick
Ralphs-guitar, vocals, Pete 徹verend Watts-bass, Dale 釘uffin Griffin-drums and Verden
撤hally Allen-organ) released their 1st single 迭ock and Roll Queen in October of 1969,
followed the next month by their eponymous debut album.
閃ott the Hoople, the album, is a many room, ramshackle farmhouse of a work. From
the swagger of 迭ock and Roll Queen to the stark humanity in their cover of Sonny Bono痴
鏑augh at Me, this is clearly the work of real human beings who are making joyful noises at
and with each other to a lord of their own making, the sovereign of combined bliss.

Their live shows at this point in their career, were as liable to end up in a fist-fighting riot
as any hockey game you might care to mention. While stylistically mercurial on record, Mott
the Hoople were a rock and roll band, live. All jacked up hep cat finger pop bop, lightning
boogie and power chord car crashes, Hunter all the while crowing mysterious lyrics of
bitterness and exaltation in a voice half Dylan, half football hooligan. Drunken louts with
drunken shouts and glorious train wrecks for all. (I refer the uninitiated to their 3rd record,
1971's 展ild Life and it痴 extended, live version of Little Richard痴 適eep a Knockin樗 for
audio proof of this band痴 protean power in the early days, if not to lay claim to punk
progenitor status).
Like most uncompromising bands , Mott, through their own obstinance and the
vagaries of record company promotion, failed to ignite much interest beyond rabid pockets
of fans both here and abroad. But, much like the Replacements in the decade that
followed, Mott released scattershot, though casually brilliant, albums like 溺ad Shadows in
1970, the aforementioned 展ild Life and the beautifully chaotic and demented 釘rain
Capers in 1971. 釘rain Capers, produced by Guy Stevens (who later went on to produce
the Clash) and dedicated to the memory of James Dean, is an exhilarating mix of acid
tongued intelligence, both smart and smart ass and flat out, tear up the house rockin and
gets my vote in the 1st punk rock record sweepstakes.
(I of course will go back and forth on claims like this, but really, who cares?)

In any event, after the failure of even so great a work as 釘rain Capers, the boys in the
band were ready to throw in the towel. You can only be great with no recognition for so
long, after all. But sometimes all it takes to save the day is one person who cares.
Especially if that one person is David Bowie. Riding high of the success of 典he Rise and
Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Bowie had acquired rock stardom
through the then novel approach of saying he was one, acting like one and, to be fair,
producing exceptional work. Bowie痴 flair for the dramatic and propensity for dress up
made him the clear fore-runner in the trend of Glam-Rock, where men dressed like women
and adopted otherworldly personae to express their feelings of alienation and outcast
status, thus striking a nerve with scads of alienated American teenagers who bought the
records and the rouge and the platforms and built a profitable little nation of alienation.
(Alien Nation?).
But, as the man said, those were different times, before Led Zeppelin got their airplane
and rock and roll fragmented beyond recognition. This was a time when the history and
community of the music still held sway on it痴 more, let痴 say honorable practitioners.
Bowie loved the spirit of Mott the Hoople, realized that he was in a position to salvage the
career of a band worth saving and did so by offering them the opportunity to record a song
he had recently written called 鄭ll the Young Dudes.
泥udes has been called a gay 殿nthem and maybe it is, the Movement could surely do
worse, but the real gift, the magic of 鄭ll the Young Dudes was the rush one would feel
when those first golden notes came out of the (at the time) AM radio. The song sang about
the exact people that would be listening and buying and living the song. That connection
between singer and listener, that element of inclusion is what sets Mott the Hoople apart
from the monolithic pseudo-majesty of, say, Zeppelin or the Stones.

Now, singing to one痴 audience about that audience痴 experience did not begin and
end with Mott the Hoople singing a David Bowie song. From Chuck Berry痴 鉄chool Days
and 哲o Particular Place to Go up through The Who痴 典he Kids are Alright, to name a
few, the rock song has offered vignettes of teenage life to greater and lesser degrees of
accuracy and honesty. No, what, to my mind, sets this apart is Hunters laughing aside,
towards the end of the record. Just as the song fades out, one hears Ian Hunter fairly
chortle 的致e wanted to do this for years.
With that one phrase Ian Hunter establishes himself as one of us, like he痴 just another
goon who somehow got into a recording studio, got his voice on a 塗it record and was
going to take us all along for the ride. And what a ride it was.
The 鄭ll the Young Dudes album, with it痴 single of the same name, along with Bowie痴
纏iggy announced the beginning of a sector of the rock 都cene that offered more than
head-banging fist in the air posturing disguised as community. The glam scene was more
of a party than a fleeting glimpse at a hierarchal structure where the punters stayed over
there, ideally in abject worship of whatever 4 or 5 grave robbers-of-the-blues were booked
into whatever stadium that night. The album and single were Mott痴 first hits, the single
reaching #3, the album # 21 in the U.K. and the album hitting #21 (UK) and 89 (USA).. In
November of 1972, the group embarked on it痴 first major US tour. To an ever growing and
appreciative audience. For some reason, organist Allen decided to leave the band at this
point, never to be heard from again.
Now, faced with large scale success for the first time and determined to not be seen as
a Bowie invention, Hunter grabbed the reins and imposed his vision on the band. The
resulting album, 1973"s 溺ott, proved to be both the group痴 finest hour and the beginning
of the end. On earlier albums, Hunter痴 50's styles rockers and literate ballads were
countered and complemented by Mick Ralph痴 countrified love songs and soon to be, in
the hands of Bad Company, 田lassic rock tunes. With Hunter clearly in charge, the focus of
the band sharpened. The songs became more self-referential, almost of a diary. While
Hunter and the boys became larger and larger rock 都tars, we, the audience, were given
unprecedented access to the process and the feelings engendered by this process. In the
song 典he Ballad of Mott the Hoople (March 26th, 1972-Zurich), Hunter tells the tale of the
band痴 near-demise and professes, in a flash of heroic honesty, that rock and roll is 殿
loser痴 game, lending rare humanity to the 途ock and roll circus that this music, our music,
born of rebellion had become.
Ralphs quit the band after the release of 溺ott to form the lunkhead Bad Company with
Paul Rodgers, outselling Mott the Hoople but never approaching their divine spark. Mott
toured with replacement guitarist Ariel Bender (one Luther Grosvenor, late of Spooky
Tooth) and released one last album (apart from the dodgy 溺ott the Hoople Live), 1974's
inevitably titled 典he Hoople. Arguably the first Ian Hunter solo album, 典he Hoople found
the band exploring extended arrangements and toying with the kind of science fiction
operatics Bowie so successfully worked on 泥iamond Dogs, It was about this time that
Hunter痴 actual tour diary 泥iary of a Rock and Roll Star was published. In fairness to
Hunter, he had wanted the book to be entitled 迭ock and Roll Sweepstakes. 泥iary gave
readers a fly-on-the-wall look at what it was like to be a touring rock band with a hit and all
the attention (press and otherwise) that ensues.

Mott the Hoople, the people痴 band, ultimately broke up in December of 1974, but not
before one last ditch attempt at survival by replacing the always out of place, if not out of
tune Ariel Bender with Bowie right-hand-man Mick Ronson. The wonder that this
combination could have been is represented by the single 鉄aturday Gigs where Ian
Hunter pays us our respect while kissing us goodbye. The song is essentially a retelling of
the group痴 history and, this is what sets Mott the Hoople apart, our place in it. With the line
典hanks for the great trip, Hunter does what, to my mind, no other rocker had ever done
before in song; he had the decency to recognize our part in his 途ock and roll circus and
the graciousness to thank us. It is perhaps, the sweetest thing a record has ever done for a
listener and one of rock痴 finest moments.

Recommended Listening: Brain Capers (Atlantic)

Mott (Colunbia)

The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective (Columbia)



The following comments are for "Sid Vicious Died for This?"
by tim55b

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