skip to Main Content

The Mystery of “Hymn for the Dudes” (Mott the Hoople, 197X???)

I came across an article in the on-line magazine Far Out about this song, with which I had not been previously familiar, characterizing it as a shot against Bowie. Bowie wrote Mott the Hoople’s biggest hit, “All the Young Dudes,” produced the album of the same name and generally helped resuscitate the band at a point it might have otherwise broken up and faded into rock and roll oblivion. I have read elsewhere, however, that Bowie became overwhelming and manipulative and that Ian Hunter and the band came to resent him. Things eventually seem to have smoothed over, as Ian Hunter wrote a tribute song to Bowie, “Dandy,” after Bowie’s death.

Anyway, Far Out writes of, “Hymm for the Dudes,” as if it were a song like, “How Do You Sleep At Night,” which was John Lennon’s very overt assault on Paul McCartney, or “Sweet Home Alabama,” which was at least in part Lynyrd Skynrd’s broadside against Neil Young. Having never previously heard “Hymm for the Dudes,” I tried to find out more about the song.

I own many biographies of David Bowie and more books about his music. A quick review of them revealed no mention of this song. Next up was an internet search, and sure enough there are scattered references to the song, some of which mention the interpretation that it contains shots at Bowie. One such analysis was on someone else’s blog, called Rock and Roll Ramblings, which goes further and contemplates that the song actually critiques several rock stars of the day including Elvis Presley (note the references to “the King”). Unlike Far Out, this blogger makes the somewhat obvious observation that the song is “entirely pro-Christian.” It’s possible that the point of the lyrics is to depict rock stars as false gods. If you go back to the video I posted three days ago and listen to what Bowie said about rock stars standing in for gods, it’s entirely plausible that Ian Hunter was reacting to that kind of talk.

But there are some seeming direct references to Bowie, and particularly to songs that appeared on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Consider these lyrical references:

– “Go tell the superstar” —-> “I’d come on like a regular superstar” (“Star”)
– “You ain’t the nazz” —> “He was the nazz, with god given ass” (“Ziggy Stardust”)
– “ … you are not alone, you are not alone” —> “You’re not alone” (“Rock N Roll Suicide”)

There are other possibly more subtle references, or maybe I should say other, subtle possible references, such as use of the word, ‘jive,” in the opening line, which also appears in “All the Young Dudes,” “dove,” which appears in, “Soul Love” (“Just touch the flaming dove”), “if you think you are a star” (which is essentially the whole subject of the song, “Star”). And then, of course, there’s the title, which like Mott’s Bowie-written hit, contains the word, “Dudes.”

But the case is far from open and shut. I cannot find a definitive reference to when the song was originally written, with some sources pegging it to 1970, two years before Ziggy (and also before, “All the Young Dudes”). It was apparently included on a live album that was based on performances recorded in 1971 and 1972, so it is possible that the song was written and recorded, or perhaps even adjusted in 1972 after Ziggy, but obviously the whole thing would be a strange coincidence of “Hymm” came first.

Then there’s the word, “Nazz.” As the Rock and Roll Rambling blog points out, Ian Hunter might have been referring to Todd Rundgren, who fronted the band, Nazz. In the you-learn-something-new-everyday category, the band’s name was taken from a Yardbirds song (does all of rock trace back to the Yardbirds?), titled, “The Nazz Are Blue” (written by the late Jeff Beck). The meaning of the word, “Nazz” (which is capitalized), is not abundantly clear from the Yardbirds song, however I have read both that it is taken from the slang used in A Clockwork Orange (which makes some amount of sense in terms of its use in Ziggy, which also borrows other slang from the book), but also that its short for “Nazarene,” meaning Jesus, which could make sense in the context of “Hymm” being a Christian song.

Despite writing about Bowie on a daily basis, I am not actually an expert, and the true story behind this song is probably known by someone, but for me it’s a fun mystery to contemplate.

And if you want to solve the puzzle for yourself, here are the lyrics:

God ain’t jive
For I can see his love
As it runs alive
‘N one by one
Through fields of rusted wire
The war has just begun
Oh, cross over shame like the wise dove
Who cares not for fame just for shy love
‘N rejoice for the king ain’t lost his throne, oh no
He’s still here, you are not alone
Correct your heads
For there’s a new song rising
High above the waves
Go write your time
Go sing it on the streets
Go tell the world, but you go brave
Oh my sweet instant Christian you are such a sly clown
Too many questions, no replies now
‘N rejoice for the king ain’t lost his throne, oh no
He’s still here, you are not alone
I got an idea
Go tell the superstar
All his hairs are turning grey
Star-spangled fear
As all the people disappear
The limelight fades away
‘Cause if you think you are a star
For so long they’ll come from near and far
But you’ll forget just who you are (yes you will)
You ain’t the nazz
You’re just a buzz
Some kinda temporary
Cross over shame like the wise dove
Who cares not for fame just for shy love
Oh-oh, my sweet instant Christian you are such a sly clown
Too many questions, no replies now
‘N rejoice for the king ain’t lost his throne. Oh no.
He’s still here, you are not alone, you are not alone.

Back To Top