Many rock bands and performers (if they’re around long enough) record a “life is hell on the road” song. Some are sublime (Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi,” GWAR’s parody “The Road Behind”). Some are ridiculous (Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” … as if there was any doubt).
However, my favorite is Mott the Hoople’s “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” which contains one of my all-time favorite lyrics about not only the quest for fame, but life itself: “I wish I’d never wanted then what I want now twice as much.” That’s deep. From Mott the Hoople’s 1973 album “Mott.”
“Laugh at Me” was originally a charming, yet clumsy protest song written and performed by Sonny Bono in the late 1960s. Mott the Hoople covered it in 1967 on their first album and what was once clumsy became majestic. Sounding like an outtake from Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” Ian Hunter and the gang slowed down the tempo, gave the song a serious treatment, and let that wonderful organ and guitar sound do the rest. A great example of how a cover can completely transcend an original.
I’ll quote Greil Marcus on this one: “(Lead singer Ian) Hunter must have smiled when he saw the punks of the late seventies reach the audience he was sure had to be out there somewhere – smiled, and wondered if anyone remembered ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother,’ a shatteringly beautiful horror story that no punk has ever touched on record, though Sid Vicious may well have lived most of it out.”
Mott the Hoople’s 1974 album “The Hoople” is a great, but uneven collection of songs that shows the band at a crucial, albeit schizophrenic crossroads. Many the songs seem written for a rock and roll Broadway musical, while others (the Marilyn Manson/Alice Cooper-like “Crash Street Kidds”) seem to be anticipating punk a few years later. “Marionette” is from the Broadway end of things, albeit creeping towards the Cooper/ Manson side. Somewhere Meat Loaf and his producer/collaborator Jim Steinman are taking notes.
A rare (and very baroque) ballad by Mott the Hoople, from 1971. According to legend, lead singer Ian Hunter wrote it while he going through an early divorce, as Waterlow Park in North London was where he used to take his children. You can tell that R.E.M. likely took notes when composing “Drive.”