They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Happy birthday, Ian Hunter! You remember Ian, don’t you? You’re not alone if you don’t. Hunter is kind of like that small-market baseball player who toiled admirably outside of the glitter of the big media centers. And, like a well-rounded, five-tool player, Hunter excelled at all the critical elements of his job. He could write solid songs, was an above-average vocalist, and could play guitar, bass and piano. Plus, with his poise, full mane of curly blonde hair, and trademark shades, Hunter sure looked the part of iconic ‘70s front man.
His legacy suffers for a handful of small reasons. Despite writing the majority of their songs, his band Mott The Hoople earned their biggest hit with a song gifted to them by David Bowie. Of the songs that Ian himself wrote for his solo career, the ones that were most successful were the ones covered by others. Mott The Hoople was never as “glam” as T. Rex or Slade, never as progressive as early Genesis or King Crimson and they were never confused with the harder British peers in Zeppelin and Sabbath, although they shared tiny elements of all those genres. Mott The Hoople is practically a parody for all facets of ’70s British Rock. Go ahead and do a Google Image search on Mott The Hoople. You can practically name the guys: that’s David St. Hubbins, over there is Nigel Tufnel, and isn’t that other guy Derek Smalls? All that’s missing is an 18-inch Stonehenge.
Still, it is a testament to Ian Hunter’s songwriting versatility that his tunes have been covered by artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Ozzy Osborne. He’s still active at 72, still playing live and has released a couple albums in the past five years, including 2007’s Shrunken Heads featuring help from Jeff Tweedy.
The Presidents of the United States – Cleveland Rocks (Ian Hunter cover)
See, you do know Ian Hunter after all! Hunter wrote this one and probably still gets an occasional residual check for what would become the theme for The Drew Carey Show. POTUS got the notoriety for the Drew Carey association but Ian would get the keys to the city of Cleveland from then-mayor Dennis Kucinich.
Great White – Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Ian Hunter cover)
Gather round children and be reminded of a time where rock radio was strangled by the likes of Poison, Cinderella, Damn Yankees, Skid Row, Warrant, Winger, Whitesnake and Great White. In the context of the biggest ‘80s Hair Band hits, Great White’s cover of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” was practically a breath of fresh air. Clever lyrics, understated production and, by God, a piano. Kudos to Great White for picking an appropriate song and not messing it up.
Barry Manilow – Ships (Ian Hunter cover)
I was a bit surprised when I stumbled upon this one in my research, but I shouldn’t have been. One listen in hindsight to Hunter’s original from 1979’s You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic and you can almost anticipate the Manilow remake which became a top 10 hit also in 1979.
Big Dipper – All the Way from Memphis (Mott the Hoople cover)
If Mott The Hoople had a signature song outside of the Bowie-penned “All The Young Dudes,” it’s probably “All The Way From Memphis.” Surprisingly few covers exist of this gem. Epic Records asked Big Dipper to cover it on their major label debut, Slam, as a potential single. It sounds like they’re just starting to have some fun with it when the studio engineer grabs the fader and ends the party.
Alejandro Escovedo – I Wish I Was Your Mother (Mott The Hoople cover)
Maria McKee – I Wish I Was Your Mother (Mott The Hoople cover)
Simply one of Ian’s best songs, “I Wish I Was Your Mother” came out on 1973’s Mott, but it’s something you might expect to have heard on Big Star’s #1 Record of the same era. Covers exist from Wilco and Dramarama, but it’s hard to beat Alejandro Escovedo’s lonesome live version with strong backing vocals from Susan Voelz on the expanded edition of his Thirteen Years. Unless perhaps it’s Maria McKee’s version recorded for (but left off of) You Gotta Sin To Be Saved. We can’t decide, so we’ll share both.
Drop by Ian’s website and maybe even leave a birthday greeting on the message board.