This was written and produced by David Bowie. Mott The Hoople had a cult following in England and Bowie was a big fan. The problem was, they weren't selling many albums and were about to break up. Bowie heard about their impending breakup when Mott bass player Pete Overend Watts called looking for work, and in an effort to keep the band together, he offered to produce their next album and provide them with a song he was working on. The challenge was getting Mott in the studio to record the song, since they had alienated their record label, Island. Bowie got them some time at Olympic Studios in London in the middle of the night, and that's where they recorded the song. Besides producing the track, Bowie played guitar, sang backup, and clapped.
Mott The Hoople didn't know this when they recorded it, but Bowie intended this song for his The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars concept album. The, "All the young dudes carry the news" line refers to part of Bowie's story where there is no electricity, and Ziggy Stardust uses songs to spread the news.
Said Bowie: "'All the Young Dudes' is a song about this news. It's not a hymn to the youth, as people thought. It is completely the opposite."
When Bowie first offered this song to Mott The Hoople, they recognized its potential straight away. The band's drummer Dale Griffin is quoted in Rolling Stone magazines Top 500 Songs: "I'm thinking, 'He wants to give us that?' He must be crazy!"
Even though the band was heterosexual, this became a gay anthem, at least in America, thanks to lyrics like "Lucy looks sweet 'cause he dresses like a queen." This was the nature of glam rock, a style that emerged in England in the early '70s where singers performed in makeup and feminine clothes while playing bombastic rock songs. The performers were not necessarily gay, but they definitely blurred gender roles. Bowie may have been the biggest influence on glam rock.
After the first recording session for this song, Bowie thought it was lagging at the end. Mott lead singer Ian Hunter responded with the idea for the one-way conversation, which begins with him saying, "Hey, you down there, you with the glasses!"
Said Hunter: "I remembered an encounter I'd had with a heckler during a recent gig at the Rainbow [in London]. He was annoying me, and I ended up pouring beer all over him."
Mott The Hoople released four albums before All The Young Dudes and their near demise. When this song was released, they quickly found a following in the UK and scored five more Top 40 hits before breaking up in 1974, with guitarist Mick Ralphs moving on to form Bad Company.
This was Mott The Hoople's only US Top 40 hit and their biggest hit in England. It is the only Mott The Hoople song many people have heard, but the band has a large following of fans who think they have a number of great songs, but were never appreciated.
In April of 1992, Mick Ronson, David Bowie, and Ian Hunter performed this song along with the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. It was especially symbolic because Queen was another great band from the glam rock era and then recently deceased lead singer Freddie Mercury had spent his life "carrying the news."
The lyrics were inspired by Bowie's vision of Mott the Hoople as a Clockwork Orange-style street gang.
The lyrics, "Lucy's stealing clothes from unlocked cars" were written as, "Lucy's stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks," Marks and Sparks being the nickname for the British store Marks & Spencer. Mott ran into the same problem The Kinks had with "Lola
": The BCC refused to play songs if they thought it contained lyrics advertising a product. The Kinks had to turn "Just like Coca-Cola" to "Just like cherry cola" at the last minute, and Mott had to get rid of Marks and Sparks. At the insistence of their record company, Ian Hunter flew from New York to London to re-sing the line as "unlocked cars" before heading right back to America.
In October 1973, after this song caught on, Mott The Hoople went on tour with a young Aerosmith as their opening act. Mott played up the Glam image to the hilt, enlisting former Spooky Tooth guitarist Luther Grosvenor to play with them and having wear outrageous platform shoes and go by the name Ariel Bender - "Bender" being British slang for homosexual. Aerosmith was a good choice to open for Mott, as their lead singer Steven Tyler had a similar fashion sense to Ian Hunter.
David Bowie recalled to Mojo magazine in 2002: "I literally wrote that within an hour or so of reading an article in one of the music rags that their breakup was imminent. I thought they were a fair little band, and I almost thought, 'This will be an interesting thing to do, let's see if I can write this song and keep them together.' It sounds terribly modest now, but you go through that when you're young."
British alt rockers World Party covered this for the Clueless soundtrack in 1995. In the movie, it plays as Cher (Alicia Silverstone) voices her disgust over modern teenage boys and their sloppy attire.