Is it just me or are there certain songs that are so evocative of their time that just playing them sends you into a time warp? This has nothing to do with individual memories but taps a pipeline to a broader collective history that lurks in us all. I’ve blathered on about the link between music and memory before but this is different – I think. This is more to do with the intrinsic qualities of certain songs that cannot possibly exist outside of their own moment in time.
For me, such a song is Mott The Hoople’s ‘All the Young Dudes’. Even the title only really exists in 1972. Transplant it into the present and it sounds ridiculous. Every time I hear ‘Dudes’ leaking from the radio, my mind is filled with that period in the early 70s when the times they were a-changing.
In the late sixties and early seventies, music was made by earnest, hairy beings who served up the Blues or Prog or something in between. The God of Music ruled over The God of Image and the more faded your jeans and T-shirt were, the more your sounds were accepted. By the mid-seventies, Glam had changed all that and the God of Image, (and the brighter and gaudier the better), vied for the attention that was The God of Music’s traditional domain. Some may say, it was the beginning of the end but that’s another conversation.
In 1972, the crossover between the two begun and Mott The Hoople seemed to bestride the chasm like a colossus, as Shakespeare might have put it if he’d been an NME hack in those days. To look at, Ian Hunter was a long haired rocker of the late sixties who should‘ve been grinding out some worthy blues covers, yet ‘All The Young Dudes’ wasn’t anchored in the past. In fact, it was very much looking to the future. Written by David Bowie, who was essaying the quintessential Glam look himself, it was couched in the modern vernacular and musically, pushed away as far from the then current trend as it dared.
With it’s street-wise half spoken verse and sublime soaring singalong chorus, it was a pure pop song yet it had the otherworldliness of Bowie’s early work that separates it both from the prog/blues albums bands and the frothy chart pop of the time. It was the future of music.
Others in the Glam vanguard like Bolan and Roxy Music were already paid up members of the new world whose image betrayed their musical direction but Mott The Hoople were not like them. Sure, they smartened themselves up when they saw which way the wind was blowing but they were not Glam pioneers per se. Hence their marriage of old style band image and futuristic song had all the makings of a once in a moment musical touchstone, a real turning point. And you can’t move turning points, they are by definition rooted to their place in time.