My first Top 10 hit. Who knew? No-one…

It’s Friday afternoon. I’m in my office at CBS Records in London’s deeply unfashionable Theobalds Road. The phone rings. I answer. It’s David Bowie for my visitor, Stan Tippins.

Stan had been the singer in a group that became Mott The Hoople. But when Guy Stevens took on Mott at Island Records, he didn’t fit Guy’s idea of a frontman. So Stan stepped aside – in favour of Ian Hunter – and took on a new role as tour manager, psychotherapist, mother, father and fixer.

When David Bowie became involved with Mott – giving them the song All The Young Dudes, and producing the track – he had insisted that his management company, Mainman, take them on.

So now Stan’s involved in more than he bargained for.

This particular Friday afternoon it transpires David’s been househunting. He’s even found a house he wants to buy. Then he’s called the bank and told them how much the house is and then the bank tells him, well, Mr Bowie, we’re afraid you can’t afford it. Turns out David’s not got enough money to independently put a roof over his head. Stan gets on the case, right there in my office.

It doesn’t end well, but I can’t tell you the rest of that story for legal reasons. So I’ll just say this. Stan Tippins was (still is, I’m sure) an absolute diamond gent, devoted to his charges and heroic in the lengths he would go to for them. My admiration for David Bowie has no bounds.

And then there’s Tony Defries. Mainman was his company. My admiration for Defries knows many, many bounds. I’ll just point you at Tony’s Wikipedia entry and leave it at that.

Moving right along, then, when I joined CBS, in April 1973, Mott’s first CBS album had just been released. They’d had a giant hit with All The Young Dudes and were – as we used to say – in their pomp. As an Artists & Repertoire (A&R) man, they were part of my personal roster and I found them quite intimidating. Ian Hunter had a particularly threatening presence. Never without his shades, even indoors, his true persona was always hidden behind the dark glasses, the huge hair and an almost permanent scowl.

Still, good as gold, Mott delivered up their second CBS album and set straight off for a US tour. What they left behind was an album with two surefire hits. One of them, Honaloochie Boogie, was perfect radio fodder at 2m 35s. But we were in the era of ‘Track One, Side One, Moron’ (always the single) and track one, side one here was All The Way From Memphis, a hefty five minutes’ worth.

The task was to cut it down as near to three minutes as possible. It’s fair to say that in today’s market, editing and remixing is an art. There are remix stars, and some of them are absolutely genius. Not to mention that there’s a lot of money to be made. But back in the day, it was routine for in-house producers to do this stuff and that’s how I came to edit and remix my first ever Top 10 record. While I was about it, I decided to try to sneak in an extra bit of bass end and rough it up around the edges, so that it would cut through the radio better.

When I got to the studio, not only was my boss Dan Loggins there to oversee what I did, but also Mott’s lawyer, Bob Hirschman. Worse, my engineer for the session had engineered the original track, and it was clear he wasn’t happy having this a&r rookie messing with his work. (To be fair, in retrospect, I kind of agree with him and all credit to him for being a total pro and getting on with it).

But I was young; I was arrogant; I had no doubt I could do it. So I shut my mind to all the pressure and got on with it. And I did it – which brings me to the best part of the story.

Back from their American tour, CBS managing director Dick Asher threw a party for Mott at his palatial Hyde Park ‘flat’ (about three times the size of my detached house). I was standing to one side, trying to look inconspicuous, chatting to my friend Lon Goddard, when he said, “They’re coming over”. I turned to see the entire band heading our way, led by a frankly cross-looking Ian Hunter. It looked like I was going to be gang-mobbed.

“So, Mr Phillips,” said Mr Hunter, the scowl in his voice matching the scowl on his face. “I hear you’ve been messing with our music.” The rest of the band glared at me full throttle. I muttered something about CBS needing a single, and what with them being out of the country, no disrespect, etc etc.

Ian Hunter continued to stare at me, creating maximum discomfort. And then his face broke into a wry smile and he said, “Well, good job. We love it!” And then the rest of the band burst out laughing. They’d got me good.

Back then, you know, there was no label credit for the remixer/editor, and certainly no royalties; not even an extra note or two in the wage packet.

But you can’t buy a moment like that. And from then on, I was ok with Mott The Hoople. I even got piano and voice previews of two upcoming Ian Hunter classics one night when I dropped by a session. That same night, the band was looking for a Phil Spector sound, and I was able to tell them how the man himself had told me he had achieved some of his Wall of Sound. But that’s another story. For now, have a listen to the cut down, remixed edit of All The Way From Memphis – the one that made the top ten, but didn’t have my name on it.

Hit the ‘Play’ button.

14 Comments

  1. Wow what a great story – I can’t even remember what I had for supper last night – mind you if I had supper with David Bowie and Mott the Hoople I would most likely remember every bit of it (oh yes it was savoury rice!!)

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  2. Fantastic single and great story. The blog is a fab read, Paul. Is it true that Mott were offered Suffragette City by Bowie before he came up with All The Young Dudes for them? Mott turned Suffragette down apparently. Lovely edit of Memphis here. Great stuff.

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    • The story is that Pete ‘Overend’ Watts went to audition to play in Bowie’s band, which is how Bowie got tipped off that Mott was splitting up. So he offered them Suffragette City to keep them together. Seems outrageous from this distance, but the band didn’t think Suffragette was strong enough to break them out of their cult status! Glad you’re enjoying the blog…

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  3. Great story Paul – is this the beginning of a book? It should be… And if so, will you tell the story of our adventure with Ralph Steadman and Those Weird and Twisted Nights, and the dash to Heathrow Cargo Terminal at 3 am?! Thanks for your characteristically razor-sharp comments on mine, too!

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