For my first book review, I chose to go with something a little quirky. If you’ve read my ‘about me’ page, you’ll have seen my list of authors that I love, but this book is by none of those. And if you read my ‘about me’ page, you’ll have noticed my list of favourite bands, one of them being Mott the Hoople.
This book is by their leader, Ian Hunter. Hunter himself is better known as a musician than author (to my mind this is the only book he’s ever written) and yet on some levels, this book is really the only rock and roll book you’ll ever need.
First off, the easiest way to describe Mott the Hoople would be to call them a cult band. They began in the late 1960’s as a vaguely proto-punk/metal group with rootsy overtones. But by the early 1970’s they had latched onto the then-current glam-rock phenomenon, tightening up their sound and songs, donning elaborate costumes, and receiving a little help from one David Bowie, then in his Ziggy Stardust mode.
They gained some decent success, but being the sort of band that they were, it didn’t last long. The group split by 1974, releasing two more albums after Bowie gave them ‘All the Young Dudes’, but the band are still remembered to this day as being a raw, heavy yet melodic and intelligent act, proving to be a influence on punk, indie, and singer-songwriters alike.
Hunter wrote the book in 1972, while he was still the leader singer, chief songwriter, and occasional pianist/guitarist with the group. As the title suggests, it’s a documentation of the group’s tour of America in 1972.
Mott’s songs are well known for having a bitter yet comical sense of irony, featuring tales of downtrodden individuals who still manage to come up smelling of roses. And this tone is very evident in Hunter’s style of writing, right down to the title. He writes with a strong lyrical bent, not so much a diary and more of a story of a band who constantly ran into bad-luck, and yet still pulled through to deliver the goods, both on record and on stage.
The tour itself is besotted with humorous scrapes and daring escapades that altogether would make any other band fall to their knees and fly away home in defeat. But not Mott. These guys were tougher than any other rockers of their day.
Perhaps a key to the group’s determination whilst they were together was that they rejected the archetypal rock and roll life-style, most of the time. No drugs, at least not by the band. No throwing TV’s out of hotel windows, the band were constantly travelling and putting on a fab show. No seedy escapades with groupies, many of these guys had girls waiting for them back home.
And that’s perhaps the key to the book’s success. It was written at the high-time of rock excess, yet Ian and the boys rarely take part in it, choosing instead to tell the story of what it’s really like for a struggling band on the road. It’s a heart-warming and thoroughly enjoyable read.
I’m already reminding myself of the amusing incident near the end where a drunk Ian makes his way to the home of Elvis Presley and manages to find the back door and enters it and…
But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll have to read it yourself. And anyone who is a fan of the band, or the man, or classic rock in general should read this book. It also acts as a fabulous time capsule for classic rock in general, featuring cameos by Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Keith Moon, Joe Walsh, and of course, David Bowie.
So go on, toddle off to Amazon or wherever and pick up a copy of this wonderful read. This is a book to keep for the ages, and to keep returning to again and again. As a wise old man once said, “The golden age of rock and roll will never die, as long as children feel the need to laugh and cry.”