Back in 1972, David Bowie was in a giving mood. He'd learned that one of his favorite bands, Mott the Hoople, was on the verge of breaking after four albums of middling success. He sent over a song he'd written for them to record. The song: "Suffragette City." Mott the Hoople said thanks, but no thanks.
Undeterred and determine to provide the band with a hit song to help them carry on, Bowie grabbed his guitar and went to see the group in person. He had another song for them, and he wanted to present it live. This song: "All the Young Dudes."
“He’s strumming it on his guitar and I’m thinking, he wants to give us that? He must be crazy!” remembered the band's late drummer, Dale Griffin, in 1974. “You couldn’t fail to see it was a great song.”
Bowie stepped in and produced Mott the Hoople's fifth album, All the Young Dudes. The title track was released as the lead single on July 28, 1972. On the US charts, "All the Young Dudes" broke into the top 40, peaking at #37 for the week of November 11, 1972. The #1 song in the country that week: Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now." In England, the song went as high as #3.
It was on free-form radio and in glam-rock clubs around the world where the song became a cultural anthem for the swinging (and often bisexual) scene.
"When you do something like 'All the Young Dudes,' that creates pressure," frontman Ian Hunter admitted to Rolling Stone. "We knew we couldn’t do another cover. The next one had to be one of ours. And we only had six months to write it. That’s how it was in those days. People ask you what it was like. It was busy. I was too busy worried about getting to the next level, getting the next record. There was more of that than just lying back and enjoying it — for me anyway."
In 1974, Bowie told Beat legend William Burroughs about the origins of the song, and how it was originally meant to be part of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust opus. It came as Bowie was explaining what the whole concept was all about to an intrigued Burroughs.
"The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources," Bowie detailed (via Rolling Stone). "Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. 'All the Young Dudes' is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite."