Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Battle Of The Bands




Some stopped listening when Brian Jones died. Many gave Mick Taylor a chance, for good reason, and then jumped shipped when he walked the plank. Some actually say they don't care for "early Beatles." You've heard the words before. "The last good Springsteen record is Darkness." "The last good Costello record is Imperial Bedroom." Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I've been listening to Mott The Hoople's pre-Bowie makeover, Atlantic recordings. There are four albums and it took three to finally get it right with their fourth and final Atlantic LP, "Brain Capers." The first three could have been edited down to one brilliant debut, but most striking to me, is how Mott The Hoople was so obviously two bands. Yet I never stopped listening.

From 1969 to 1971, lead vocals were handled by both the very Dylan-influnced Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs. The records seem to be split between longish hard rockers and even longerish ballads. It seems like producer Guy Stevens' only directive was, "Tape's on. Play." With their career just about flushed away, David Bowie comes along with "All The Young Dudes," Ian Hunter takes over as full time lead vocalist, save a track by bassist Pete Watts,  and the rest is history. You know the story.

The difference between the Atlantic records and the Columbia records to my ears is like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing one, but this doesn't mean the early records are bad. It's just that at times, it is easy to think you're not listening to Mott The Hoople, if you came in early and left late, or vice versa. That is how different this band was from label to label.

I prefer the "glam" records, though I was never comfortable with that label for Mott. You need more than a top hat and a boa. There were only three studio records and a couple of singles for Columbia, as well as a lineup change for the last record, 1974's "The Hoople." But the change in sound was monumental. Check out the ballad from their debut at the top of the page, the Song Of The Day from the aforementioned "Brain Capers," and their second to last single, below.





Is there someone, an artist or band, that you've listened to from birth to break-up, that has clearly had two lives musically? I don't mean "second careers," like Danny Elfman going from Cali dance punks Oingo Boingo to scoring Tim Burton films. And not someone like David Bowie, who changed from album to album. I mean, 5 records one way and then 5 records another way.

35 comments:

kevin m said...

Talk Talk comes to mind. They started as early 80s New Wavers and by the end of the decade had morphed into what I think is Radiohead's biggest influence.

Dave said...

Fleetwood Mac? Or are they disqualified because personnel changes were involved?

Dave F.

Anonymous said...

I love both ages of Mott, also, tho I favor the first one just for the emotional connection. My first exposure to free form radio was KPOI which used the intro to Rock and Roll Queen as the opening theme to a weekly show called The English Channel.

Love both versions of the Byrds, with the Clarence White/rootsy version getting the nod, helped along by all the live recordings that have become available.

Old Santana is great, but I like the jazzy albums just as well through Borboletta and the live album with Buddy Miles. Caravanserai is probably my favorite of all their albums. Alex Ligertwood on vocals was a bridge too far, tho.

Steve Earle - I guess you can make a case that his work pre- and post-incarceration is different. He is more project-oriented in his sober phase while the first four albums (and the live Aviator) are of a piece. I like them all.

Whether John Doe is singing an X tune or doing The Golden State, I have to have it all.

Love all the versions of the Mac (from blues to slightly mystic rock to California) except for those last couple of albums. I feel the most connection with the middle albums - Kiln House through Penguin.

Anonymous said...

oh Talk Talk is a great example - great songs in both incarnations.

Sal Nunziato said...

I think Fleetwood Mac would have to be disqualified. (Though, not really a contest.) They were too many bands from birth till now. Musically, first band to last is a world apart, for sure. But I am looking for something more cut and dried. Same band, two lives.

Dr Wu said...

Talk Talk is really an excellent example. Suggest Queen (dividing point 'The Game') and Roxy Music (post-break 'Manifesto').

Sal Nunziato said...

Dr. Wu, I agree wholeheartedly with Queen and Roxy. I always felt like they both went from being bands to becoming vanity projects for the lead singers, right at the breaks you mentioned.

Troy said...

The Jayhawks' were a jangly alt-country outfit that switched mid-career to more experimental art pop/rock. Admittedly, the difference was due to the departure of Mark Olson from the band, but Gary Louris has been there throughout. The switch in sound from Tomorrow the Green Grass to the follow up, Sound of Lies, was almost startling. Personally, I like em both. And this year's Paging Mr Proust is a really terrific record.

Anonymous said...

UFO's first few albums of space prog I never really listened to much but starting with Phenomenon they put out some killer stuff. The first two Alice Cooper albums are totally unlistenable for me but after that... KA-BOOOOOOM!!! Rare Bird was kinda proggy with their first couple of records then they transformed into a more pop/rock M.O. which I really enjoyed. Great topic! Randy

buzzbabyjesus said...

Mott was already a band led by Mick Ralphs when Guy Stevens imposed slightly older songwriter Ian Hunter on them. "Wildlife", their third, is dominated by Ralphs 4 songs to Hunter's three.

First one I bought was "Brain Capers", as a cut-out.

I agree about Roxy. Talk Talk is unexplored territory.

Elvis before and after The Army.

Richard Thompson post Sufism and Linda.

Genesis post Peter Gabriel.

Anonymous said...

Hello all....no, please remain seated,

What about Steve Miller (Band)? Very different music early in his/their career and after 1973.

Regards,
RichD

steve simels said...

For what it's worth, the pre-glam Mott is still my favorite. Perhaps because I saw them live early on.

Shriner said...

David Johansen/Buster Poindexter immediately sprang to mind. Or does he not count?

I would have seconded the Alice Cooper Group for the quantum leap between the first two albums and Love It To Death (but that's almost all because of the addition of Bob Ezrin.)

Sal Nunziato said...

With David Jo, it was planned. It's a different persona.

This may be a stretch, but how about Aerosmith? Pre-cleanup, these guys put out some dirty rock records, with even a touch of R&B. Post-cleanup, it was all horns and strings and power ballads. Same guys, same sounds, but completely different agenda.

snakeboy said...

How about Tom Waits? The guy totally reinvented himself in the early to mid-80's.

Anonymous said...

Well, Pink Floyd did it at least three times, from Syd-imitation Syd first couple, to the expansive atmospheric, lush mid-period where they worked as a foursome, to the bilious, cinematic, conceptual work of the Roger-led era, then the near-worthless fake Floyd era of Gilmour's Floyd cover band.

There's also Radiohead, who were a guitar rock band and then became an experimental techno, Talk Talk-influenced (I agree) entirely other thing.

There's also of course, The Beatles, who went from being a sunny, poppy boy band to suddenly (somewhere between the point where Dylan gave them weed and poetic inspiration and the point where George's dentist gave them lysergic inspiration) becoming the most influential art project of the 20th century.
Other acts like Wilco, The Jayhawks, U2, Joni Mitchell,and even yes, Queen definitely had at least two distinct careers.
I like how Beck has managed to basically run parallel musical identities, the sad scientologist balladeer weirdo, and the fun party slacker rapper scientologist weirdo.

PS I wonder how history would be different if the Chris Gaines album had been a huge success, followed by a shocking reveal, as intended. :-)
Another topic for discussion? best alternate identity? Wilburys? Ziggy? Dukes of Stratosphear?

vanwoert said...

How about the Airplane/Starship?

Dr Wu said...

Absolutely Aweosmith. I'm constantly trying to explain to my younger friends the difference, but they love those Desmond Chikd and Jennifer Warren power ballads. Heathens! What about Van Halen? Not because of the singers, but rather the love of the keyboards that began on '1984' (ex. 'I'll Wait'). That was the beginning of the end of that once great band's relevance for me.

Bombshelter Slim said...

I'm not sure I see a "real" big difference between early & latter day Mott, except that I think Hunter's songwriting kept improving (see: "I Wish I Was Your Mother"). I hate to bring it up, Sal, but Todd post-S/A rarely does it for me (but there are exceptions!). Here's a possibly controversial topic: Bob Dylan with "Blood On The Tracks" as a dividing line...

Sal Nunziato said...

You know Bombshelter, you make a good point. Maybe Mott only sounds better, if of course you're in the Columbia camp, because the songs were better. Not sure about it, but it is something to think about.

As for Todd, I have never expected anyone to get from Todd what I get. It makes more sense to me for people to NOT get it. But I can't use S/A? as a dividing line. There are 44 years of music since, covering too many bases.

wardo said...

Tom Waits definitely. Aerosmith?

For the record, the only thing I knew about Mott was "All The Young Dudes", until Rhino's Backsliding Fearlessly comp. It's not perfect, but highlights some great stuff from those first four albums.

Todd Glaeser said...

How about The Who pre-and post Tommy? After Tommy, Townshend discovered synthesizers and they became a rock band. Pre-Tommy, they were a pop singles band.

R S Crabb said...

Like everybody else, my first Mott The Hoople record was All The Young Dudes, our FM station played a few cuts from that record (One Of The Boys, Sweet Jane, Sea diver all got airplay along with the title track) and hardly knew anything about their Island/Atlantic albums till I read about them in the Rolling Stone Review Guide.

Certainly there are two variations to the band, the sloppy Guy Stevens production and the more polished sound that David Bowie gave them on Dudes. I still love Dudes and can tolerate Mott and the 1974 The Hoople (once Ian Hunter left, Mott made forgettable albums), but I tend to play the Atlantic albums more often than not. Mott's first album I really love side 1 and the other side opener Rock and Roll Queen but Half Moon Bay I can do without. Mad Shadows is schizophrenia caught on record. Walking With A Mountain and Thunderbuck Ram the best songs and with Wildlife they gotten into a more mellow and country sound although Keep A Knockin is a fun listen. Brain Capers is their best Atlantic album, they covered Dion's Your Own Back Yard and the Youngbloods Darkness Darkness to great effect. Death May Be Your Santa Claus really sets the mood, a classic trainwreck of a song and The Moon Upstairs even more chaotic. Perhaps the key song is The Journey, which starts out slow and then ends up with coda of repeated guitar riffs and Hunter's howling vocals. Rhino's Backsiding Fearlessly really does captures most if not all of the highlights off their four albums.

Anonymous said...

Are y'all saying you like both Aerosmiths? stay OT, people! you have to like ALL of the band's output, regardless of change.

Now what about the Kinks?

Anonymous said...

The BeeGees came to my mind immediately.

whattawino said...

I'll 2nd the Steve Miller Band. Early stuff is essential listening and a lot of fun!
At The Joker, the whole thing changes to very commercial. Just listen to Brave New World and Number 5...they are killer!

OldRockr1 said...

U2 is another band that has morphed constantly over the years. Sometimes for good and sometimes not so much. The first 3, A Sort of Homecoming/Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby and then the even more electro records. War to Pop is a pretty big change.

Paul said...

I would like to add XTC with English Settlement being the dividing line. It also corresponds with when they stopped touring.

snakeboy said...

So many more bands have popped into my head.
Moody Blues (but that was just one LP).
Renaissance - (but that was a whole new group)
Rush - Later stuff was more synth / keyboard oriented.

Anonymous said...

slightly OT - Julien Temple is wrapping up a film about Keith Richards' youth which ends just as the Stones begin, called Origin of the Species. And he's very nearly got everything in place to do a Kinks movie. Said in an interview about the re-release of Absolute Beginners.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Slightly OT?"

:)

Anonymous said...

well, you did start off by talking about the Stones :)

Anonymous said...

Los Lobos pre- and post-Kiko?

- Pete

Dr Wu said...

Had the opportunity to see Ray Lamontagne last night with My Morning Jacket (less Jim James) as his backing band. Amazing show! Here's an artist that has made quite the transistion - from soulful folk singer to psychedelic (yet still soulful) Floydian rocker. Highly recommended if you've the opportunity.

Dr Wu said...

Cont'd: add a SoCal Zombies vibe. Even hints of beloved Power Pop. Sorry, I really don't have the gift that many of you do. Cursed with a flailing inarticulate appreciation. Doh! Lol! Thanks for listening.