Ian Hunter, the iconic shades-wearing singer who gained fame as leader of Mott the Hoople in the 1970s, is still going strong — very strong, in fact — at the ripe age of 70. Listening to the songs on his most recent albums, one can only marvel: Ian Hunter still sounds vibrant and full of vigor. I only hope that I will possess this much energy when I get to be that age!
Although he is most famous for being the face behind Mott, many of his finest music moments have come since he went solo in the mid-1970s. His first solo album, Ian Hunter, received rave reviews and contained the hit “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” I vividly remember hearing that song being played on the radio when I visited New York City in the summer of 1975. Talk about vivid memories: whenever I see a photo of the Statue of Liberty, I still associate it with that Ian Hunter song! Hunter has released over a dozen other albums since then, but the ones he has recorded in the past decade have been particularly impressive. And just last year Hunter reunited with several of his old mates from Mott the Hoople for a critically acclaimed concert in London. Clearly, the sunglassed-one has plenty of energy left to burn, making a remarkable career resurgence in his “senior” years.
His most recent album, last year’s Man Overboard, continues his streak of consistently fine recent recordings (also check out Shrunken Heads and Rant). The highlight on this album is the closing number, the anthem-like “River of Tears.” With the piano banging away, Ian singing and strumming an acoustic guitar, and James Mastro (who used to play with Richard Barone) propelling an electric guitar, the song builds to a glorious climax. Lyrically, it’s also quite powerful, with lines such as:
Waiting on an elevator
In a hotel out in California
Smog clouds up the windows
But there is a plaque up on the wall
That tells of the Agoras
People who were here long before us
Before the covered wagons
Before they lost it all
They were hunters
They were fisherman’
And they often fought each other
But one small tribe was different
Their leader was a peaceful man
They were weavers
They were painters
Trading pelts for pretty colors
Protected by the warriors for the beauty in their hands
Roll back the years
Roll back the years
To the river of tears
If you thought Ian Hunter last made a great album with You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (released in 1979 and included the big hit “Cleveland Rocks”), think again. This guy is on another hot streak, and Man Overboard is a fantastic album. Speaking of the Schizophrenic album, there is now a 30th Anniversary version available as a double-disc CD set. The reissue includes some demos and alternate versions of a few songs, plus live recordings from the 1979 tour.
Hunter also recorded one of my favorite live albums of all time, Welcome to the Club. This was recorded in 1980 when guitarist Mick Ronson was in his band. Hunter performs a varied set that includes solo material and some of his popular Mott the Hoople songs (“All the Way from Memphis”, “All the Young Dudes”, and “Walking with a Mountain”). Whether it is heartfelt ballads (“Irene Wilde”), spirited instrumentals (“F.B.I.”), or flat-out rockers (“Just Another Night”) Hunter and his band put on a passionate and powerful performance that still packs a punch. And after hearing his most recent fine albums, I think it’s maybe time for a new live album.