Of all the original architects of glam rock, Ian Hunter is one of the few to have made any long-term commitments to its preservation. While the reasons are certainly debatable, just a cursory glance at those who defined the genre back in the early ‘70s shows that longevity and glam rock don’t exactly go hand in hand. David Bowie? It’s no secret that he had to break up the band and lay Ziggy Stardust to rest, only to morph into a blue-eyed soul crooner (the first of many post-Ziggy personas) and never look back over his shoulder. Lou Reed? He managed one brilliant statement (under Bowie’s guiding hand), but was ultimately far too self-absorbed to commit himself to the preservation of anything beyond his ego. Marc Bolan? His star shone too brightly to be bound to the material world, so he ascended back to the cosmos almost as quickly as he arrived.
But Ian Hunter—first with Mott the Hoople and later as a solo artist—has carried the torch for glam rock to this very day, continuing to create through numerous stylistic revivals (except for a quiet spell during the mid-to-late ‘80s). It’s this same tenacity that should be held accountable for the music on this collection, originally released in 1975 but recently reissued with improved sound and two extra “hits”, considering that Mott the Hoople had officially disbanded before signing to Columbia and recording the LPs represented on this CD. Following a critically well-received but commercially disappointing four-album run with Atlantic, the band had thrown in the towel; but after a Lazarus-like resurrection at the hands of Jesus H. Bowie himself, Mott the Hoople got a second shot at mainstream success.
With the Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes” arriving as an instant classic, Hunter and his band made the most of their second chance, delivering not one, but three excellent albums in a row before the group began to splinter again. Surprisingly, Greatest Hits focuses more on the uninspiredly titled Mott and The Hoople (from 1973 and 1974, respectively) than All the Young Dudes—besides the title track, the only tracks from the band’s masterpiece are the bonus additions to this reissue, “One of the Boys” and a mediocre run-through of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”. The rest balances rockers and ballads as well as their studio albums did, even if there’s a glaring omission or two.
Of the harder-edged tunes, bassist Pete “Overend” Watts’ “Born Late ‘58” is a hidden gem. Pulled along by the quicksilver threads of slide guitar, the song shows how well the band functioned as a studio entity—listening to it (and its companions from The Hoople), it’s tough to believe that the band was already in transition at this point, with original guitarist Mick Ralphs having left to form Bad Company with Paul Rodgers. “Honaloochie Boogie”, another piano and horn-laden number, also testifies to the band’s studio creativity (a trait Hunter attributes to Bowie’s influence in producing All the Young Dudes), with the bizarre bullhorn distortion on Hunter’s pre-chorus vocals lending a circus-like strangeness to the overall sound.
The ballads, however, are Mott the Hoople’s most enduring songs, even beyond the obvious status of “All the Young Dudes”. The marriage of Hunter’s penchant for melodrama and the band’s knack for infusing the arrangements with power of epic proportions make songs like “Ballad of Mott” far more memorable than the generic qualities sometimes displayed by their harder-rocking brethren. The discussion of ballads also brings to mind one unforgivable omission from this set. “I Wish I Was Your Mother”, the epic closer from their Mott LP that’s been covered fantastically by Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo in live performances over the past few years, is nowhere to be found, laying to rest any hope for this as an essential Mott the Hoople purchase.
It’s curious that Columbia/Legacy chose to reissue Greatest Hits in favor of a career retrospective along the lines of their Essential series—by only adding two bonus tracks to the original LP-length running time and leaving off plenty of excellent songs, it feels like a missed opportunity at the very least. So if it’s a brief and inexpensive introduction to the band that’s being sought, then this is by all means the place to start; but anyone interested in truly getting a feel for what Mott the Hoople was all about should skip immediately to their trilogy of classic Columbia LPs.