Certain Songs #1208: Mott The Hoople – “All The Way From Memphis”

Album: Mott
Year: 1973

While “All The Young Dudes” was the breakthrough for Mott The Hoople on both sides of the pond, I’ve never thought that the album it came from was as great as its reputation, despite the flash cover of “Sweet Jane” and the raucous “One Of The Boys.”

But I certainly didn’t think about about the follow-up, Mott, one of the secretly great albums of the 1970s, but the last album recorded with original lead guitarist Mick Ralphs, who almost immediately hooked up with Paul Rodgers to form Bad Company.

Mott kicks off with “All The Way From Memphis,” doing double duty as the follow-up single to “All The Young Dudes,” and telling the story of a guitarist whose guitar is shipped to the wrong city, and it takes him a month to track it down. Perhaps based upon a real-life incident involving Mick Ralphs, and perhaps not, “All The Way From Memphis” is — like so many Ian Hunter songs — a wry look at the potential burnout of the rock and roll lifestyle.

Now it’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll
Through the Bradford cities and the oreoles
‘n you look like a star but you’re still on the dole

All the way from Memphis

Anchored by a descending piano riff probably written if not played by Ian Hunter — which provides both a major hook and pause setting up the recitation of the song’s title — as well as plenty of overdubbed saxophone by Roxy Music’s Andy McKay, the conceit of “All The Way From Memphis” is to deploy its chorus numerous times with slightly different lyrics.

So while most of them are about how tough the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle can be, there’s suddenly a Beatles reference.

Yeah it’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll
From the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl
‘n you climb up the mountains
‘n you fall down the holes

All the way from Memphis

All the while, of course, “All The Way From Memphis” piles on more instruments and vocals as the song continues until after the last chorus, it’s just a long duel between Andy McKay and Mick Ralphs. Strictly speaking, it probably goes on longer than it should have, but not only does McKay get almost avant-garde for a second, Ralphs sends the song into the fade with a pretty cool solo.

“All The Way From Memphis”

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