All The Young Dudes

Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes CompilationDavid Bowie gave away one of his greatest songs to another band! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame described ‘All The Young Dudes’ as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.

‘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.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 2David had become a fan after seeing a Mott The Hoople gig. He sent Mott a demo of the as yet unreleased Ziggy Stardust track ‘Suffragette City’, suggesting that they record it.

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.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 3Once back in England, Mott’s bassist, Pete ‘Overend’ Watts phoned Bowie asking about future work opportunities.

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.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 4This time, they didn’t reject the song.

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!”

Ian HunterBefore Bowie’s manager had even finalized the release of Mott from their old contracts and signed the band to a new record company, Bowie secretly produced the band performing ‘All The Young Dudes’.

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.

Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes Album CoverAs David didn’t like the way the song ended, Ian Hunter came up with the very striking spoken monologue that plays out over the ending of the song.

“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?

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 5Equally 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.

Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes Box Set CoverThe ‘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 Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 6David’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”.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust Era 7It 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.

David Bowie Ian Hunter Freddy Mercury TributeOne year before he died of cancer, Mick Ronson joined Bowie, Hunter and the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert to perform ‘All the Young Dudes’.

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.


David Bowie Freddi BurettiYou may not have known or realized about ‘All The Young Dudes’ :

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’.

David Bowie Arnold Corns Moonage Daydream Single CoverThe 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.

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14 Responses to All The Young Dudes

  1. The song was featured in a great film called Cemetery Junction, set in 1973. It is truly one of those mind boggling iconic songs. I knew a lot of the story behind it, but not all, so thank you for the heads up.

  2. John S says:

    What a great song. Bowie had so many more that it was a good thing to give it to Mott, as they went on to produce some brilliant music too.

    • John, you’re right. I’m listening to some Mott right now. Great songs like ‘One Of The Boys’. Also, Ian Hunter wrote ‘Ballad Of The Mott Hoople’ when the band had that disheartening experience in Switzerland that I alluded to and decided to break up. How’s this lyric excerpt:

      Rock’n’roll’s a loser’s game
      It mesmerises and I can’t explain

  3. A great, great song that also says a lot about how Bowie willingly helped his peers. You’re also right about Bowie having the song pretty much complete before he helped Mott the Hoople. Indeed, there’s even a stereo version of Bowie’s version that’s never been formally released. When I listen to it, brilliant though it is, the thought crosses my mind that it’s not quite compatible with the Ziggy Stardust material. I wonder if this why Bowie was happy to share despite his management’s misgivings. See what you think:

    • Thanks for commenting and providing the Youtube link. I like David’s version of ‘All The Young Dudes’, but it is nowhere near as good as Mott’s.

      Bowie went to some lengths to make his version different from the way he produced Mott’s. (And also I must thank you further, as I edited my article to clarify how his version deliberately differs.)

      You’re right that Bowie’s version doesn’t sound like Ziggy Stardust. Instead, it was recorded almost a year after the last Ziggy tracks, in December 1972 or January 1973 during the Aladdin Sane sessions.

      By the way, Bowie’s manager, Tony De Fries, was happy that he gave away the song as he expected to manage the band after negotiating the new contract. Altho’ Ian Hunter was suspicious of him and never signed a management contract with De Fries!

      But Bob Grace, Bowie’s then-publisher who worked for Chrysalis, was unhappy with the give-away, believing that it really cost Bowie.

  4. Pingback: All the Young Dudes; Part One | Rick Keene's Music Scene

  5. Mike Chivers says:

    An interesting piece, but one correction: the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was ONE YEAR and nine days before Mick Ronson’s death.

  6. Xprmntl says:

    This past Tuesday night, I saw an Alejandro Escovedo cover “All the Young Dudes,” giving an introduction where he stated that Bowie had offered him the song, prior to Mott, when he had some association with Foghat. He referred to himself as an “idiot” for doing so, and attributed it to some sort of girlfriend issues between he and Bowie.

  7. hipmonkey says:

    Reblogged this on hipmonkey and commented:
    On David Bowie’s death at 69. “I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man,
    Just a mortal with potential of a superman,
    I’m living on…” – David Bowie

  8. Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

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