Recently, Shout! Factory put out yet another repackaging of Mott the Hoople, Old Records Never Die: The Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter Anthology. The twist in this two-disc set is that the second disc draws from Ian Hunter's post-Mott solo career, though many of the songs might as well have been Mott songs.
By coincidence, I finally found a cheap copy of Hunter's Diary of a Rock and Roll Star, which chronicles Mott's American tour after the release of All the Young Dudes. The book's a throwback to the days when rock had yet to become an industry of its own, and because like so many British glam bands from the early 1970s, Mott had a hard time making an impact in the States. Once the band gets away from the coasts, it's out of place and struggled through shows where soundcheck and billing issues along with their own nerves meant the shows were often disappointing by Hunter's standards.
The common theme between Hunter's song and book writing is his dark take on the rock 'n' roll myth. "Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game," he sings in "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," The good days were always some point in the past, and Hunter always found himself looking back with disappointment, so much so that John Lydon's "Ever have the feeling you've been cheated?" would have suited him well. At the same time, the songs' riffs are so big and melodies so memorable that there's no resignation in the songs.
Today Mott sounds a little quaint because so few bands aspire visibly toward bigness, and because it's so unlikely for most bands to reach for a mass audience. There are surely rock 'n' roll queens still out there looking to bed members of bands, but "groupies" seems like a part of a bygone era. But the rock 'n' roll mythology still has power and Mott captures the mixed feelings we all have toward it as engagingly as anybody does.