‘All The Young Dudes’ became a major hit for one of Bowie’s favorite bands, a British act called Mott The Hoople, who were on the verge of breaking up.
Incredibly, they rejected ‘Suffragette City’ – even though they were definitely in no position to turn down great songs.
Mott had a following that was devoted, but small. Their four albums had sold poorly and after a disheartening audience reaction in Switzerland, they had decided to break up.
Stunned to hear that the band was about to break up, Bowie offered another, newly written song and called his own manager, Tony De Fries.
David brought first Pete Watts and then the whole band to his manager’s office, where Bowie sat on the floor and played the not quite finished ‘All The Young Dudes’ on an acoustic guitar. The story that he wrote the song on the spot is charming, but untrue.
No wonder, as it has in the words of Mott The Hoople fan Mick Jones of the Clash, “great lyrics, great chorus”.
Mott’s lead singer Ian Hunter,
“… one of Bowie’s best songs ever, and he gave it to us … incredibly generous.”
Mott’s drummer Dale Griffin thought,
“He wants to give us that? He must be crazy!”
Bowie played the song to teach the band and they created the basic backing track in just two hours. David recorded a guide vocal to assist Ian Hunter in singing the track, Bowie having already re-arranged the song to suit Ian’s voice.
“Hey, you there. You with the glasses”
… was Hunter confronting a heckler during a gig. Hunter told the heckler’s friends to bring him towards the stage, where he poured a beer over the heckler’s head.
“I’ve wanted to do that for years.”
Great ending! But who at the time would have known the meaning of the monologue?
Equally obscure was Bowie’s explanation that ‘All The Young Dudes’ was set in the apocalyptic world of Ziggy Stardust, where there was no electricity to broadcast the news (that Earth was dying) and the news was spread by Ziggy’s songs.
“All the young dudes carry the news.”
Instead, the song was adopted as a beloved anthem by a new generation of young Seventies kids.
The ‘All The Young Dudes’ single was released on July 28, 1972 reaching #3 in Britain and #37 in the US, enough to push them to theatre-sized gigs and good sales for the ensuing albums, including the Bowie-produced accompanying album also entitled ‘All The Young Dudes’, released in September 1972.
Ian Hunter has said that without this song, there would have been no Mott The Hoople.
A mash-up (“audiomorph”) of both Bowie and Hunter singing ‘All The Young Dudes’ has been released twice, on the box set of the same name and on the extended CD release of the original album.
David’s publisher believed that Bowie had made a serious mistake in giving the song away. He believed that if Bowie had released ‘All The Young Dudes’ in 1972, he would have become an even bigger star, that he would have been “huge beyond our comprehension”.
It is intriguing to think that if Mott had not recorded ‘All The Young Dudes’, Bowie would at that time have included it in Ziggy Stardust in a similar style to the way he had produced and co-arranged the Mott The Hoople version.
‘Dudes’ would then have probably pre-empted ‘It Ain’t Easy’, the album’s sole remaining non-original. There was a precedent: ‘Starman’ had been a late addition to Ziggy Stardust, bumping off a Chuck Berry cover.
David Bowie did record the song for himself during the 1973 Aladdin Sane sessions and for the David Live album, but deliberately made his version entirely different in style from his Mott The Hoople version. He had left himself few options and his slower, more ponderous version was not suitable.
David avoided the elements essential to the hit version, such as the sweetly aggressive guitar, the almost-dominant keyboards and the effective backing vocals. Bowie played a slow sax to replace the guitar and even sang the vocal in a different key to the Mott version. That studio version was only released more than twenty years later for the first time.
Also in the Nineties, Bowie took to performing it live again, this time roughly in the Mott style.
Mick Ronson didn’t play on the original single, but had been a member of Mott The Hoople for a few weeks at the end of 1974. Although he only recorded one single with Mott (‘Saturday Gigs’), he went on to work with Ian Hunter for several years.
That emotional Wembley performance was a confirmation of the song’s anthemic status. More recently, we’ve heard the song in movies including Juno and two years ago, Rolling Stone formally listed ‘All the Young Dudes’ as #256 of the greatest songs of all time.
The song’s characters Billy, Freddie and Wendy were the real names of some of Bowie’s friends at the Sombrero, a gay club in London.
“Freddie” was Freddi Buretti, who Bowie had unsuccessfully attempted to launch as a star, renamed Rudi Valentino. Freddi formed part of a group called Arnold Corns, who released early versions of the Ziggy Stardust tracks, ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’.
The lyrics of ‘All The Young Dudes’, as with many lines on Ziggy Stardust, used gay and African-American slang. A very straight band were now singing the line, “Lucy looks sweet ’cause he dresses like a queen.” It was claimed that the line hampered American radio play and undermined its US sales, although this is difficult to verify.
The line “Wendy’s stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks” appears in some versions as
“Wendy’s stealing clothes from unlocked cars”. “Marks and Sparks” is an informal, everyday term for the British department store chain, Marks and Spencer. If Mott had not re-recorded the vocal, British public radio would have regarded it as an advertisement for the chain and would not have played the song.