The irony of singer-songwriter Ian Hunter's career began when his band Mott the Hoople scored their most enduring hit with a 1972 glam anthem penned by a generous outsider — David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes." Leaving the group two years later, this English rocker eventually achieved American success as Yanks faithfully covered his solo catalog: Great White with "Once Bitten Twice Shy," Barry Manilow with "Ships" and the Presidents of the United States with the Drew Carey Show theme song, "Cleveland Rocks." Yet Hunter's far more dramatic renditions of his own richly idiosyncratic material remain impenetrable for U.S. masses. He's a Dylan who never got his "Like a Rolling Stone."
Throughout this two-disc set's 38-year scope, Hunter unites opposing elements: primal hard rock, complex lyricism, quintessential Americana and a distinctly English bray. His favorite subject is rock itself, a topic he personalizes with lived-in details, and his specialty is piano-pumping boogie punctured by piercing guitar. When these elements come together on rollicking tracks like "All the Way From Memphis," Mott the Hoople arguably eclipse similar vintage Rolling Stones. But aside from 1975's Ian Hunter and 1979's You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic (both assisted by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson), Hunter's subsequent solo output rarely rises above spotty pre-Bowie Hoople. Despite several strong tracks from weak albums, only Old Records Never Die's middle gets as satisfying as the best discs it raids, because its chronological bookends are either too scattered or too redundant. Start with 1973's sustained and succinct Mott instead.