Sony/Columbia 491400 2.
Mott The Hoople's box set was finally released on 14th September 1998. Three years in the making, it covers Mott's entire career, from early incarnations as The Buddies (1964), Doc Thomas Group (1966) and The Shakedown Sound (1968), through the Island years, the CBS years, right through to the end as Mott and British Lions (1978). More than just a collection of their hits, this lavish 3-CD set includes just about every rarity and unreleased gem the casual (and die-hard) fan could ask for.
It is packaged as a 3-CD "long box" digipack, and the box includes a 56-page booklet, which includes an MTH chronology, discography, track by track analysis and dozens of unpublished photographs, which are truly stunning. The booklet also contains many quotes and insights from all the band members. Campbell Devine (who else?) was also written a short overview of the MTH story.
Every effort has been made to track down as many original studio masters as possible; these were then mastered using the very latest technology to ensure the sound quality is as good as possible. The whole process was overseen by Dale Griffin at every stage, and the result is a sound that is just awesome.
OK, so what of the music? Disc 1 is packed full of rarities and unreleased gems from the Island days (1969-72). The disc opens with Like A Rolling Stone (which of course was the song Ian auditioned for Mott with). An impromptu jam, it finishes all too soon. You Really Got Me restores Mick Ralphs' lead vocal, and Wrath 'n' Wroll restores the God Save The Queen coda (previously only available on the first few thousand copies of Mott's first album). Ohio, recorded live at Croydon's Fairfield Hall in September 1970, bristles with power and menace; maybe one day the entire concert will be made available to fans. The alternate version of The Journey is the gem of the disc. Full of elegance, pace, majesty... Buffin says it is perhaps the best Mott The Hoople ever captured on tape.
Disc 2 captures the "best of" the CBS years, and so will be familiar enough to most readers. I will, however give full marks for the inclusion of both the B-side version of One Of The Boys and the single version (with Mick Ralphs) of Roll Away The Stone.
Disc 3 is where the fun starts, packed full as it is with rarities. It kicks off with David Bowie's guide vocal for Dudes. This is actually a combination of that rough mix with the final mix (and Hunter's rap) being used on the choruses. It works quite well... It's Goodbye dates from 1964 (The Buddies) and features Mick Ralphs on guitar; Just Can't Go To Sleep is from 1966 (Doc Thomas Group) and features Stan Tippins, Pete Watts and Mick Ralphs. If you've bought The Italian Job then you'll already be familiar with this track. Transparent Day dates from 1968 (The Shakedown Sound) and features Stan, Ralphs, Watts, Verden Allen and Buffin. These three tracks provide a fascinating insight into the musical progression of the soon-to-be Motts.
Next up are three tracks recorded with Stan Tippins on vocals during the Dudes sessions. The demo of Honaloochie Boogie is weird: the lyrics are different and there is a strange echo which Buffin describes as "like being at the end of a long, damp concrete pipe". The demo of Hymn For The Dudes is beautiful, with the same arrangement as used for live performances at the time. Nightmare is another gem; the last Verden Allen song to be recorded by Mott (he sings it too) it is a shame it has taken until now to be released. The Saturday Kids is an amalgam of three different takes, showing the genesis of the song from first draft to an (almost) complete version. This mix also has Ariel Bender's guitar solo, which has been unreleased until now. Shout It All Out was the b-side to Monte Carlo. It Don't Come Easy is an outtake from the Shouting And Pointing sessions, and features Mick Ralphs on guitar (he wrote it as well).
Get Rich Quick was the last song recorded by Mott (September 1976). It is a shame it all came to and end just a few months later. The CD closes with American Pie/Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll and Roll Away The Stone/Sweet Jane recorded live at Uris, and which are just awesome in their power. Maybe one day CBS will see fit to release the full show. Finally, there is a blistering live version of Rock 'n' Roll Queen, recorded live at Croydon in 1970.
Each CD makes maximum use of the medium's playing time, the result being nearly four hours of music. It is obvious that a lot of time, care and attention to detail has been lavished on this box set. It will appeal to the casual fan as well as the die-hard and I have no hesitation in giving it maximum marks. An absolutely essential purchase.
There were early rumours that Sony weren't pressing up a huge number of copies; these now look to be unfounded. It now (1998)seems likely the box set will be relatively easy to find (in the UK at least).