All The Young Dudes

All The Young Dudes (Mott the Hoople, with Bowie guide vocal).
All The Young Dudes (Mott the Hoople).
All The Young Dudes (Bowie).
Wide-Eyed Boy From Freecloud/ All The Young Dudes (Bowie, live, 1973).
All The Young Dudes (Bowie, live, 1974).
All The Young Dudes (Mott and Bowie, 1992).
All the Young Dudes (Bowie, live, 1996).
All the Young Dudes (Bowie and Billy Corgan, live, 1997).
All the Young Dudes (Bowie, live, 2004).

If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don’t make it in ghastly seriousness,
don’t do it in deadly earnest,
do it for fun.

D.H. Lawrence, “A Sane Revolution.”

Why did David Bowie give away his best song? Mott the Hoople didn’t know. The band, watching Bowie demo “All the Young Dudes” on guitar in his manager’s Regent Street office, were baffled by his generosity. Asked if they wanted the song, “we broke our necks to say yes,” Mott’s drummer Dale Griffin later said. One reason was simply timing: in early 1972, Bowie still considered himself as much a songwriter as a performer and wanted to place a song with an established act like Mott. He had pitched them “Suffragette City,” but the band had passed on it, telling him they were breaking up. And so Bowie wrote “All the Young Dudes” partly to rescue one of his favorite bands.

“All The Young Dudes” was born larger than its creator. It’s not just that Bowie’s own version of the song, cut later in 1972, is a wan reflection of the Mott record (the only time Bowie came close to the power of the Mott single was onstage at the last Ziggy Stardust concert). “Dudes” is a band’s song, its power derived in part from its performers’ own mythology and history; take the way, as the song winds down, Ian Hunter riffs against the chorus that his bandmates repeat. The chorus gives the come-on, Hunter closes the sale, picking out faces in the crowd, pointing at them, baiting them, drawing them in.

Pop music is as tribal as it can be universal, and “All the Young Dudes” is one of the great tribal songs: it draws a line in the dirt and says, “this is where we stand,” or “this is far as we go.” On its surface, it’s an attempt to make a secessionist movement of the younger Baby Boom kids, severing them from their hippie older brothers and sisters. Bowie had hinted at this strategy with the line “look out you rock & rollers—pretty soon, you’re gonna get older” in “Changes,” but here he puts it right out:

My brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones
We never got it off on that revolution stuff
What a drag
Too many snags

The cold contempt in Hunter’s voice as he sings the last two lines brings it home. The house has burned down, so let’s just play in the ashes. It’s telling that the hippie brother is sitting around at home, considering himself a revolutionary but lost in his fantasies, while the Young Dudes are out on the streets and starring in their own dramas. Their revolution, if they even want one, is the one D.H. Lawrence proposed in “A Sane Revolution” (“it would be fun to upset the apple-cart/and see which way the apples would go a-rolling”), a poem that Mott the Hoople would quote on their last great record.

The ancestors to “All the Young Dudes” are Bowie’s songs about children, “There Is a Happy Land” or “When I’m Five” or “After All.” As in those songs, “All the Young Dudes” ranks and marks its characters, watching them play out their tiny lives onstage (with some fine writing, like the detail about the kid scarring his face by ripping off stickers); again, there’s a sense of ominousness and loss, whether in the way the chorus, opening in triumph, soon descends into minor chords, or how the lyric opens with a kid rapping about how he’s going to kill himself when he gets old (25 years old).

The “news” the kids are carrying, Bowie later said, is the secret knowledge that the world is ending soon: the Young Dudes are the final generation, or at least believe they are. The world’s last children, they spend their days in happy revolt against the world, a life full of petty crimes, costumes and solidarity.

“All the Young Dudes” sounded like a smash from the start (“we knew we were singing a hit,” Hunter later said), and it’s constructed similarly to “Changes,” with a compelling melody set against a fairly complex chord structure. The song’s full of little touches: take the way the opening guitar riff becomes a series of triplets leading into the verse, or how while the verse and the chorus begin the same (moving from C to A minor to E minor to G), each then takes a different path, the verse moving to a D minor bridge (“television man is crazy,” etc.) while the chorus suddenly shifts to 3/4 time after “carry the news.”

The Mott single, produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson, was recorded on 14 May 1972 and released in July. It hit #3 in the UK and was collected on the LP of the same name, again produced by Bowie and Ronson and recorded in June-July ’72. (The Mott track with Bowie’s guide vocal is on the reissue of All the Young Dudes.) Bowie’s version, cut during the early Aladdin Sane sessions at the end of ’72, was an oft-bootlegged outtake until the 1990s, when it was collected on a greatest-hits disc—Bowie’s only “official” version until then was a 1974 concert recording on David Live.

Top: Schoolboys smoking, Hyde Park, 17 May 1972. (Another Nickel in the Machine).

11 Responses to All The Young Dudes

  1. DAVID B says:

    Bowie did a great version of this on his last tour in 2003. I saw him sing it at Birmingham NEC.

  2. iago g. says:

    I am in awe of this web project–the best writing on Bowie I’ve ever read, and whoever is doing this is doing it for every song? i simply can’t believe it. That it should be a book, the locus classicus on Bowie, is a given. But I have one question. With all the formal and historical specificity on display in every entry, why is the title of the blog project “Pushing Ahead of the Dame”? Isn’t Dames plural in the song? Probably being anal, but it seems so odd considering what an astonishing edifice is being constructed, to have what seems to be a lyric misquote up there at the top? Anyway,whoever you are, I am just so impressed with what you are doing–thank you very much for doing it

  3. col1234 says:

    Iago–

    Thanks. “Pushing Ahead of the Dame” is meant to be a play on the “Queen Bitch” line and Bowie’s old nickname in the UK press, The Dame. But I think most people refer to this site as “Bowiesongs” anyhow, and that probably should’ve been its title. I came up with the title in about 8 minutes just before launching the site, so it’s not a great one.

    chris

  4. iago g. says:

    gotcha. i did not know he was referred to as “the dame”! I really hope the world doesn’t end before you get to Sweet Thing/Candidate!

    • I think ‘Pushing Ahead Of The Dame’ is a great title. I got what you were doing with the intentional misquote and everything. Me and my mates STILL call him ‘Dame David Bowie’ to this day. When it does emerge into print, I vote that you keep it.

      As for this entry, it’s not the first time I’ve had my eyes fog over with tears as you describe music that has meant the world to me so accurately and insightfully.

  5. steve collins says:

    bowie’s perception of a generational shift was accurate. for those of us who became teenagers in the early 70s the 60s were history – the times had changed – and the hippies were people we felt separate from and reacted against, eventually in the form of punk. generation x came early in britain. i still quote this lyric to explain.

    marvellous blog by the way.

  6. Winston says:

    As a songwriter I also wondered why bowie would give away such an amazing song but he does seem to have a few of them anyway doesn’t he? Great tune, the harmonies at the chorus always gave me chills as soon as it hits Am, love it.

  7. lauriecolson says:

    I never seen you looking so bad my funky one
    You tell me that your superfine mind has come undone
    CHORUS:
    Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend
    Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
    When the demon is at your door
    In the morning it won’t be there no more
    Any major dude will tell you

    Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine
    The people on the street have all seen better times

    CHORUS

    I can tell you all I know, the where to go, the what to do
    You can try to run but you can’t hide from what’s inside of you

  8. The Ziggurat says:

    Each time you update these, they show up in my RSS Reader. I love coming back to the older entries.

    • col1234 says:

      do they? I wondered that. when i do a revision in the book, I occasionally try to update the dead links of the blog entry (this one is notorious—that Mott link never lasts long)

  9. Anonymous says:

    So…that is Bowie singing the chorus, right?

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