One of those rock greats that seems to never get talked about as a rock great is Ian Hunter. As lead singer of early-‘70’s English glam rock mainstays Mott The Hoople, Hunter sang ‘Roll Away the Stone,’ ‘All The Way From Memphis,’ and one of rock and roll’s greatest anthems ever, ‘All The Young Dudes,’ a tune offered to them from a fan by the name of David Bowie, and only after they first rejected Bowie’s initial proposal of ‘Suffragette City.’ Following the band’s dissolution in 1974, Hunter began a surprisingly high-wattage solo career which yielded gems like ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy,’ ‘Just Another Night,’ ‘Central Park ‘n’ West,’ and ‘Cleveland Rocks’ – which was later covered in almost note-for-note fashion by The Presidents of the United States of America (yes, that’s really the band’s name) as theme song for the ’90’s TV series “The Drew Carey Show.”
Then there’s this one, from 1976, more under-the-radar than most of Hunter’s hard-rocking hits, an evocative exploration of the Brit’s adjustment to life in New York City entitled ‘All American Alien Boy,’ in which both instrumentally and lyrically Hunter appropriately seems to break out about as many dazzling maneuvers as there are lights in Times Square.
Let’s start with David Sanborn guesting on alto sax, who can’t quite wait until after the first 8 bars to begin lighting the song on fire. Sanborn is one of the most conspicuous and admired players in the jazz world but has also collaborated with a who’s-who of R&B, pop and rock A-listers, including his contribution of the iconic sax throughout David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans,’ a song which has more in common with this one (at least musically) than just the apparent flag-waving of its title. Hunter then takes two vocal verses himself before quickly handing off to arguably the most amazing bassist in music history, Jaco Pastorius. A bass solo in a pop song? Starting just over a minute in? Covering over 40 seconds of the tune? With Jaco…oh yeah. And, oh my god, ask the bass player in your life how spectacular his playing is here – particularly the I-don’t-know-what-that-is chord thing he does at exactly 1:28 – and how creative and technically difficult it is to play the stuff that he plays. Even Hunter, it seems, can scarcely handle it; listen for him muttering an appreciative “Alright” towards the end of Jaco’s solo (I did the same thing myself the first time I heard it).
Why don’t we break this up and offer you the chance here to sample those first two minutes before moving on…
And we’re back, post-Jaco solo, to continue.
From there Hunter hits his stride, spitting melodic rhymes until he reaches the uplifting chorus swaddled in a bed of the glorious female backing singer triad, whose swirling sound is, in fact, remarkably similar to Bowie’s cherished ‘Young Americans’ refrain. Sanborn scorches another sax solo, taking us to the scat-rapping bridge, and into…another killer solo, this one a fret-tickling series of twangy notes on guitar. Hunter spills out a bunch more accelerating verses of Limey-Yank poetry, and now we’re (seemingly) in the home stretch, when out of nowhere a clarinet, trombone and trumpet join the party, and damn if it isn’t suddenly like a raucous Pete Fountain Dixieland crescendo! Horns are weaving all around, the heavenly singers are taking us to church, we get tinkling upbeat hits on the ride cymbal, and Hunter’s rapid-fire hollering hijinks – an escalating hootenanny, and an irresistible good time.
And that, my friends, is something to be appreciated by all the young dudes, as well as any old ones.
Full lyrics here; try to follow along at your own risk.