It takes a personality like mine to cackle wildly at finding a loophole in the rules I made up to govern a list I mostly made to entertain myself* during the pandemic**. The rule of course is that I cap the number of songs by one artist at three. Part of me wishes that I would have capped it at one for (a) consistency with Kelly Stitzel’s rules, though we did not discuss these in advance and (b) so that I could have an opportunity to talk about near misses the one-an-artist rule would have made space for such as “Daniel” by Elton John and “Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies. I’ll go into this a little more later. But the cap of one would have prevented me from piling on about the elite group of multiple artists on this list, which is one of my favorite things to do, particularly in the case of David Bowie.
*Read: throw myself into and obsess over.
**As though I really needed one more thing to throw myself into and obsess over.
This particular loophole of course enabled me to squeeze one more Bowie song into the mix. I feel like this is only technically a cheat, since a studio* version of “All the Young Dudes” performed by Bowie himself is readily available on multiple collections and has been since 1995. I’ve acknowledged previously that the first and maybe still definitive posthumous best-of release, Legacy, is fairly listenable almost all the way through. The version of “All the Young Dudes” performed by its author is strikingly *inferior* to that which was performed by his glam-era contemporaries and otherwise so-so** and fairly straight rock n’ roll outfit, Mott the Hoople. I can’t explain this (but I will try). It’s kind of a miracle. They were just the dead-correct band to perform this--what I believe to be--perfect song.
*Bowie performed “All the Young Dudes” live a zillion times, including his last performance with the Spiders from Mars for Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture, which has its own soundtrack. My point is, it’s a lost treasure or anything.
**This isn’t a true opinion, it’s my opinion, so please don’t think I’m shitting on them. They’re not terrible and I find them fundamentally better than some of the less uninteresting British glam acts like Slade, but they really had lightning in a bottle with their performance of “All the Young Dudes.”
Bowie wrote “All the Young Dudes” in the squishy between-times bisecting the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane releases, basically, just as he was solidifying his role as rock n’ roll’s biggest cult figure. One thing I admire about him is how unafraid he was to lavish praise on his contemporaries. He was *so* confident, he didn’t need to also establish rivalries* or like even not go out of his way to help musicians of whom he was a fan. And he was a fan of a lot of his contemporaries. This of course included Mott the Hoople (for whatever reason) and he gave them “All the Young Dudes” because they were frustrated by poor sales and were on the verge of breaking up. He had also offered “Suffragette City,” possibly my second or third favorite tune on The Rise and Fall and “Drive-In Saturday,” my favorite song on Aladdin Sane. I just--why were they so lucky?? I guess it probably goes without saying that things managed to shake out exactly as the universe intended.
*To my knowledge, the only rivalries he initiated were a one-sided one with Elton John because he (I think rightly) saw “Rocketman” as a cheap “Space Oddity” ripoff and with Gary Numan for being generally unpleasant.
I can’t tell you the first time I heard “All the Young Dudes,” but I can trace two pivotal instances. The first was in the 1995 major motion picture Clueless, a cover by World Party, presented in a bit of a throw-away context, where Cher bemoans the lack of effort boys of her generation put into their general appearance. It made more of an impact on the soundtrack, which I owned and enjoyed. It’s a fairly straight cover, but definitely lacks the force of the Mott the Hoople version. Then, some ten-plus years later when at ComFest, Columbus’s annual and aptly named community festival, a band that I am 99% sure was Two Cow Garage* brought down the goddamned house with a shock-and-awe cover that in spite of myself, gave me goosebumps on top of my goosebumps.
*Pete will correct me if I’m wrong.
Fast forward another ten-plus-years to the months following David Bowie’s death in January, 2016. I think I’ve mentioned in multiple posts about the half-dozen Glam rock songs that appear on this list that I cultivated my taste for the genre after Bowie died and certainly I spent some time exploring Mott the Hoople’s catalog apart from “All the Young Dudes,” picking up the album of the same title. I’ll go into this more later, but like a lot of us, I took David Bowie’s death really hard, such that it was one of those pivotal life moments that make you really consider your own mortality. For me, David Bowie’s death affected me in this way more than any other besides the death of my own mother (!).
I don’t know why this happened, except to point out in addition to having admired the man for hears, his death coincided with my 38th birthday* and the launch of the 2016 republican presidential primaries, the result of which of course ended up with Donald Trump ultimately winning the nomination and the presidency. Is there a recipe more apt to trigger a midlife crisis than turning 40 and feeling for the first time in your life that western civilization was really actually on the verge of collapse? I was starting to feel *old* for the first time, so along with other ridiculous things, I dove head-long into full Glam rock immersion, idealizing that period of youthy creative abandon, half-wishing I was shaking my fist at Nixon instead of Trump.
*David Bowie died on January 10, but we found out the morning of the 11th and my birthday is the 12th, so not exactly but pretty damned close. This affected how I celebrate my birthday ever since.
“All the Young Dudes” was written during a time when Glam rock was a proper scene and a budding youth movement*, again, immediately following the Ziggy Stardust explosion. Bowie wrote it as an ode to the young men and boys who’d found an identity as sparkly, gender-bending** revolutionaries. “Rebel Rebel” is the companion piece, written for the young women and girls who found a home Being Outrageous in the early 70s. These kids were sticking it to the man by embracing their freakiest impulses relative to their environment and it felt right at home in 2016-17. Their energy gave me life almost 50 years later.
*It’s interesting because I usually think that the relative radicalism of youth/music/pop culture movements has an ebb and flow, or at least it has in my lifetime. I definitely see Glam as a stylistic response to earnest, unfashionable folk music, but supposedly both coincided with sexual liberation. There was no conservative response to the breaching of sexual mores, the conservative response was to call folk and to some degree the accessibility of it bullshit.
**In the parlance of their times.
The musicianship is great, but at this point in the countdown I’m not going to pretend that I care quite as much about the masterful guitar work--which it is--but that would also suggest that I have more than a passing interest in masterful guitar work. I was about to say that the magic of “All the Young Dudes” lies in the chorus, the “all the young dudes, carry the news, boogaloo dudes, carry the news” and it is. The chorus-proper is sung by backup singers, who include both David Bowie and Mick Ronson and features semi-random heckling by Mott lead vocalist Ian Hunter, who interjects such nonsense as “hey! Dudes!” and “where are ya?” and “stand up!” It’s very much in the style of Lou Reed’s interruptions in “Sweet Jane” and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bowie ripped this off* because that’s what he did.
*I say this with the utmost respect and reverence.
I do love the vocal performance in the chorus but I decided now that I need to put it on paper that the verses are really where it’s at. The melody and the performance alike are at once vulnerable, aggressive, and comforting. Bowie wrote the song inspired by Mott the Hoople’s relatively masculine bravado, which I guess he found kind of refreshing for their time. The concept is basically that Mott is a street gang in the style of A Clockwork Orange and this is their theme song. Here’s where I’m going to pinpoint why the Mott version is superior to the Bowie version: Ian Hunter’s voice is far less polished than Bowie’s which is rich and polished. Hunter’s is--forgive this adjective, it’s the only one I can think to fit--creamy. It just fits like a glove. My second and third shreds of evidence are the final several lines of the two lengthy verses “the television man says we’re crazy, saying we’re juvenile delinquent wrecks. Oh man I need a TV when I got T Reeeeeeeeeeeex.” That sustained note on “Reeeeeeeeeex?” I love it. It is the most pleasant sound in the history of rock music. It’s perfect. In Bowie’s version, it’s too ironic. It’s cheeky and that’s so inappropriate for this song. The corresponding lines concluding the second verse gives me that beautiful, perfect tone one more time “Now I've drunk a lot of wine and I'm feeling fine, got to race some cat to bed. Oh, is that concrete all around or is it in my heeeeeeeeeaaaaaad?” I can hear it as I type it. It is part of my soul.
I adore the music video for “All the Young Dudes” which you can watch here:
Earlier in this post, I described them as kind of normal guys who were adopted by a Glam rock angel and made famous but in the video, they actually look pretty cool, with Ian Hunter in his aviator sunglasses and Mick Ronson towering over literally everyone in the world. But my favorite thing about the music video is the actual shots of real Glam kids in 1970s London* and you can tell that they’re legit because they’re all dressed way to drab and frumpy to be putting on airs. These were those kids who inspired me so. I love them.
*Idk, just a guess and I don’t see any specific landmarks to confirm this or otherwise. There’s not a lot of information out there on this video.
I feel like I’ve done this elsewhere on my top 100, featured a song by a band I don’t particularly like, but I’m taken aback a bit at my placement of such a song in the #4 spot. I stand by the choice, though. It’s a testament to how absolutely genius it is both in composition and performance. I need to state again because it’s plainly true: “All the Young Dudes” is a perfect song.