This album “The Hoople” caught British band Mott the Hoople at the peak of their creative studio powers and is simply stunning in its songwriting, structure, musicianship, and most importantly, capturing the spirit of the times. It was released in March 1974 and was certified gold in both Britain and the United States of America, even before its release.
All the songs were composed by Ian Hunter apart from the track “Born Late 58”, where Overend Watts made his writing debut. The album is topped and tailed by the two hit singles, the opening track “The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” with its pseudo Alan Freed introduction and Ariel Bender’s manic guitar solo giving the album a rousing start, and then closing with the Mott anthem “Roll Away The Stone”.
Although there are many wonderful tracks in between, it’s the second song that this review is going to concentrate on. Surely Mott the Hoople’s best and most influential track, “Marionette” was a frantic operetta and a production masterpiece. It’s about the business side of Rock and the manner it could affect musicians manipulated by management. The song was a nightmarish mini-opera of five minutes duration, a concept that would shortly be used by Queen for their multi-million-selling single “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Ian Hunter said of his freshly penned ditty at the time, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do as a songwriter, a five minute opera. I think we got it with ‘Marionette’. With this song one thing hits you, then another thing hits you straight away. You never get time to be distracted”.
The song featured the boys in the band plus Andy Mackay and Howie Casey on saxophones, Mike Hurwitz on cello and Graham Preskitt on demonic violin. Hunter, Bender and Watts contributed “Voix grotesques a la Quasimodo” backing vocals, and Ariel Bender was responsible for the insane cackles of laughter in the middle.
Once heard this song is never forgotten, especially (I’m sure) by some of the record industry moguls it referred to. When played live the wicked gleam of venom in Hunter’s eyes could be seen through his shades at the back of the hall.
The closing lines, as Hunter collapsed over his keyboards were:
O.K., the show’s been fun
But my wood’s begun to warp
They won – I’m done
New one – begun
I did my best
It just couldn’t last
Get me out of this mess
It all happened so fast
Now I need a rest
Where’s my sanity – Mother?
I did my best
I’m just like all the rest
They gambled with my life
And now I’ve lost my will to fight
Oh God, these wires are tight…
I’m just a marionette
It’s a fantastic track and far more influential than anybody dared think at the time. But “Marionette” is only one of many great songs on “The Hoople”. Another is “Alice”, a song about a 42nd Street lady of the night, while “Crash Street Kidds” is Mott the Hoople at their rockin’ best.
“Born Late 58” gave an indication of what Overend Watts was capable of, “Pearl ‘n’ Roy showed” the band had not forgotten their roots, whilst “Trudi’s Song” was a quiet gentle love ode to Ian Hunter’s wife, who is now his business manager. In fact, they still remain married to this day – 40 years later. Quite unique in the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll!
“The Hoople” was Mott the Hoople’s biggest selling album worldwide, and deservedly so.
Album Rating: 5 Stars
The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crash Street Kidds
Born Late 58
Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)
Through The Looking Glass
Roll Away The Stone
Ariel Bender – lead guitar, vocals
Dale Griffin – drums
Ian Hunter – vocals, rhythm guitar
Overend Watts – bass, vocals
Morgan Fisher – keyboards, synthesizer