David Bowie was such a masterful artist that he could write songs that others could only dream about and give them away without a second’s thought. There was never a struggle for creativity or an inability to write a killer tune, especially in 1972. Everything he touched around this time turned to gold, and he was firing on all cylinders, the word ‘dud’ didn’t exist in Bowie’s vocabulary back then.
‘All The Young Dudes’ is a song of tremendous charm and beauty; it perfectly encapsulates everything great about the glam-rock movement and has Ziggy Stardust’s DNA all over it. However, Bowie wasn’t searching for a hit, he had plenty of those already, and he just wanted to help a band he liked. He loved working with other artists, whether it was in a production capacity with figures like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, who Bowie elevated significantly both artistically and through association or by acting as a secret songwriter, more than happy to give away songs to some of his favourite artists.
Mott The Hoople were a band that Bowie had a great love for, the Herefordshire rockers had been together for three years, and their brand of glam-rock was one that he wanted to reach the heights he thought it deserved. Bowie initially gifted them ‘Suffragette City’ after discovering they were on the brink of splitting up and wanted to help them get through the rough patch whatever way possible. Remarkably, they dared to turn down the track, but that didn’t deter Bowie from his quest to help them as he then penned ‘All The Young Dudes’ and the group couldn’t refuse such a delectable song.
“He liked our image and sent us a telegram inviting us to his agent’s office in London,” Mott The Hoople keyboardist Verden Allen recalled to WalesOnline. “He had on a blue catsuit and played Dudes to us on a blue acoustic guitar. We’d never met him before but he just had this unmistakable star quality about him. After that me and him went for a pizza – he looked very thin, like he’d not eaten in a few days. I remember him putting his Starman single on the jukebox and him telling me, ‘Your song will be on there before too long’.”
“People thought we were David’s proteges — no one realised we’d been gigging around for a few years before that,” said Verden who then spoke about the problems that came with this success due to Bowie’s helping hand. “I think we all got rather confused at the time because we’d all assumed David would come back to help us out again with another song,” he added.
“As a result, we were left puzzling over which direction the band should take and Ian (Hunter) was taking things more and more in the direction he wanted them to go. None of the songs I was writing were getting a look in so I thought, ‘Stuff this’ and quit. It’s a ridiculous thing to do when you think about it, but I’d finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I realised I didn’t want it anymore,” Verden continued.
David Bowie recalled to Mojo in 2002: “I literally wrote that within an hour or so of reading an article in one of the music rags that their breakup was imminent. I thought they were a fair little band, and I almost thought, ‘This will be an interesting thing to do, let’s see if I can write this song and keep them together.’ It sounds terribly modest now, but you go through that when you’re young.”
The group toured with Bowie as support on his US tour following the success of ‘All The Young Dudes’ and The Starman would duet the track with them on a nightly basis, but, they no longer felt like they were their entity and couldn’t cope operating within the shadows of Bowie. They were already on the rocks before their newfound mainstream success and getting that success on the coattails of someone else didn’t sit right with the band.