by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Oddly enough, for all the acclaim their albums tend to garner from music critics, Mott the Hoople have never exactly had all that big of a presence on classic-rock radio. True, they only had one Top 40 hit – the David Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes” – but then, the same can also be said of rock icons like Jimi Hendrix (“All Along the Watchtower”), Lou Reed (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and the Grateful Dead (“Touch of Grey”). Heck, even Pink Floyd technically only have two actual Top 40 hits to their credit (“Money” and “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”), and they’re one of the most ubiquitous bands on classic-rock stations across the country. It’s not as if Mott the Hoople is lacking for great – if not fairly recognizable – songs, either, be it “All the Way from Memphis,” “Roll Away the Stone,” “Golden Age of Rock & Roll,” or their first-rate cover of the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane.”
But perhaps even stranger than Mott the Hoople’s lack of radio presence is that their frontman Ian Hunter never managed to score a Top 40 hit as a solo artist, particularly because quite a few of his solo songs have gone on to become fairly sizable hits in the hands of other acts. Even his first single as a solo artist, 1975’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” would go on to become a massive Top Five hit in the late ‘80s for the heavy-metal band Great White.
And even if you’ve never heard Hunter’s outstanding 1979 studio effort, the cleverly-named You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (the title of which was coined by Mick Ronson, who was given a writing credit on the album’s first single in exchange for allowing Hunter to use it instead), you’re certain to recognize at least one song on here. The moving ballad “Ships,” for instance, would shortly after become a Top Ten hit and enduring concert staple for Barry Manilow. (It’s certainly one of the more unlikely songs Manilow has ever chosen to cover on one of his discs – in this case, his 1979 album One Voice – but he stays faithful to the original arrangement and does a surprisingly good job with the song, even if he lacks the same vulnerability in his voice that Ian Hunter possesses that gives the song some added emotional resonance in its original incarnation.)
For those of you too young to be familiar with “Ships” – or Manilow’s music in general – you may still immediately recognize the preceding cut on Schizophrenic, the wildly fun, pounding rocker “Cleveland Rocks,” which would become a de facto anthem for the Ohio city and its sports teams and result in Hunter being given a key to the city. In the mid-‘90s, the alternative-rock trio Presidents of the United States of America would famously cover the song, resulting in the new opening theme for the long-running and wildly inventive sitcom The Drew Carey Show. (I bet most of you out there reading this didn’t realize that the “Peaches” and “Lump” trio was not actually the first act to record that song!)
The disc – co-produced by former David Bowie guitarist/sidekick Mick Ronson, who also handles much of the guitar work here and even shares lead vocals on the excellent disco-rock of “When the Daylight Comes” – is wickedly fun and sports an all-star backing band consisting of E Street Band members Roy Bittan, Garry Tallent, and the mighty Max Weinberg, and backing vocalists Eric Bloom (of Blue Oyster Cult), Rory Dodd (best known as the featured male vocalist on Bonnie Tyler’s Number One smash “Total Eclipse of the Heart”), and Ellen Foley (of “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” fame.) The Velvet Underground’s John Cale even unexpectedly pops up to play piano and synthesizer on the gritty, soulful groove of “Bastard.”
Throughout the entire album, Hunter sounds as if he’s having the most fun he’s ever had in the studio, and he’s especially playful on the piano-driven, pounding “Life After Death” and the minor-chart-hit opening cut “Just Another Night,” which finds Hunter adopting Bob Dylan-like mannerisms in his vocal delivery of the title phrase against an irresistible musical bed that sounds like a fusion of The River-era Springsteen with Sticky-Fingers-era Stones. The disc ends in just the right fashion, too, with the epic ballad “The Outsider.”
It should also be pointed out that Schizophrenic (engineered by the great Bob Clearmountain) is one of the greatest-sounding rock albums of the late ‘70s, packing some seriously muscular punch in its mix that helps to make the album sound a few years ahead of its time. Max Weinberg’s drum sound in particular sounds even more powerful here than it does on just about any other album he’s played on, and it’s easy to see after just one listen to this disc why Springsteen ultimately ended up bringing Clearmountain in to mix Born in the U.S.A. and why the engineer ended up becoming an in-demand producer in the ‘80s for commercial giants like Bryan Adams, Simple Minds, and the Pretenders.
Hunter would never quite top this album in the studio, though the follow-up live package Welcome to the Club (which also sports a great new studio single in the playful dance-rock of “We Gotta Get Out of Here”) is nearly every bit as fun and entertaining and also comes recommended.