Mott the Hoople were on the verge of disbanding in the spring of 1972 when David Bowie offered to lend them a hand. He sent them a demo of his new song “Suffragette City” for them to record, but they politely declined. Bowie then visited them in person and played “All the Young Dudes,” a song he had written specifically for them. “He’s strumming it on his guitar and I’m thinking, he wants to give us that? He must be crazy!” recalled late drummer Dale Griffin. “You couldn’t fail to see it was a great song.”
“All the Young Dudes” became a massive hit for Mott the Hoople. It also became a glam-rock anthem, with lyrics that were perceived to be about bisexuality. (“Now Lucy looks sweet ’cause he dresses like a queen/But he can kick like a mule, it’s a real mean team.”) Bowie negated this notion two years later, in a 1974 conversation with beat writer William S. Burroughs for Rolling Stone, when he insisted the song was tied to “Five Years” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news,” he explained. “So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. ‘All the Young Dudes’ is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”
Here you can watch Mott the Hoople performing the song in L.A. in 1973. “It’s nice to be back in Los Angeles,” frontman Ian Hunter says while tuning his guitar. “Actually we don’t mean it at all, it’s a drag to be back.” The band is in full glam attire, with Hunter in a ruffled white shirt and bassist Pete Overend Watts in white thigh-high platform boots. Guitarist Ariel Bender, who had just joined the band, takes the song’s signature riff to new heights.
Though “All the Young Dudes” saved Mott the Hoople’s career, it also prevented them from being known for anything else. “You can say it might have had an adverse effect on the band’s image,” said Hunter. “But without it there wouldn’t have been a band: simple as that.”
This April, Mott the Hoople will tour America for the first time in 45 years. Returning to the band are Bender — who hasn’t toured with Mott since 1974 — and keyboardist Morgan Fisher.