Album cover for Ian Hunter's "All American Alien Boy".
Ian Hunter Patterson (a.k.a. Ian Hunter) was born on June 3, 1939 in Owestry, Shropshire, England. His father worked for the British intelligence service MI5; this kept the family on the move and by one account, Hunter had attended seventeen different schools by the age of eleven. Eventually, the family settled in Shrewsbury. There, Hunter was apprenticing for Sentinel/Rolls Royce when he and Colin York and Colin Broom, performing as a trio, won a talent competition performing “Blue Moon” on acoustic guitar. York and Broom were members of a Northampton-based rhythm and blues group called The Apex Group, and Hunter soon joined The Apex Group and moved to Northampton. Hunter left The Apex Group in 1958, and kicked around in a few local groups. Having fallen into debt, however, he opted to return to Shrewsbury. Once there, he got a job with McGowans fruit and vegetable company, and started dating Diane Coles. He also played in a harmonica duo with Tony Wardle. Hunter returned to Northampton and rejoined The Apex Group; Coles soon followed him there and the two married. Hunter pursued a musical career, forming Hurricane Harry and the Shriekers, a band that competed directly with The Apex Group (this resulted in his eventual dismissal from the latter band). When Hunter’s new band toured Germany with some success, he began to realize he might be able to support himself as a musician. In 1966, Hunter moved to London and joined The Scenery. By early 1968, that band had run its course and, with a family to support (Hunter had two children by now), Hunter resorted to taking day jobs, working as a journalist and road-digger.
Hunter never gave up the idea of working as a full-time musician, however, and in 1969, he auditioned for a band called Silence, which featured Mick Ralphs on guitar, Verden Allen on organ, Pete “Overend” Watts on bass, and Dale “Buffin” Griffin on drums. The band’s manager, Guy Stevens, felt that the band lacked an credible singer with stage presence and thus sought to recruit a new lead singer. Hunter auditioned for the band on a lark and got the job. The band signed with Island Records and released four critically acclaimed albums, and drew enthusiastic live audiences. But the albums were commercial failures, and by 1972, Mott the Hoople was ready to call it quits when David Bowie, a fan on the band, offered to write them a song. The band signed with Columbia Records, and the resulting song “All the Young Dudes”, and the album of the same name (produced by Bowie) were both hits, and the band was saved from a premature demise. Mick Ralphs left the band in 1973 to form Bad Company; Hunter assumed lead guitar duties, and for a time Mott the Hoople continued as a quartet. This lineup recorded “Mott” (1973), another successful album which contained “All the Way from Memphis”. Later that year, the band added Luther Grosvenor (a.k.a. Ariel Bender) on lead guitar and Morgan Fisher on keyboards. This lineup recorded “The Hoople” (1974) and “Live” (1974). Soon Bender was replaced by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, but in December 1974, both Hunter and Ronson left Mott the Hoople. Hunter quickly launched a solo career, initially collaborating with Ronson, releasing his self-titled debut album in April 1975. For his second album, Hunter did not collaborate with Ronson, and opted for a jazzier sound than on his debut album, collaborating with saxophonist David Sanborn. “All American Alien Boy” was released in January 1976, and a U.K.-only single, “All American Alien Boy” b/w “Rape” was released in May 1976. This is today’s featured single.
The single version of “All American Alien Boy” is about three minutes shorter than the album version (clocking in at 4 minutes and 4 seconds), with slightly different lyrics. Stylistically, the song sounds similar to David Bowie during his Philly soul period, with a sax line that sounds like it’s been lifted from “Young Americans” (not to mention the backing vocals). Lyrically, the song is Hunter’s take on being an Englishman living in America (“reflections on being hit by America”, as Hunter himself said), with lines like “Just a whitey from blighty – heading out west/Got my little green card ’n my bulletproof vest/Goin’ to New York City – where the buzz is the best.” The idea of being an Englishman in the United States is a theme that Hunter has revisited several times in his music, most recently in “American Spy”, but “All American Alien Boy” is still unique in being one of his most convincing stabs at white-boy funk. Although both the single and album version are good, my preference is for the album version.
The B-side of the single, “Rape”, is one of the stand-out tracks from “All American Alien Boy”. The song opens with an excerpt from “Singing in the Rain” (an allusion to the rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange”?) Then, accompanied by backing vocals provided by Ann E. Sutton, Gail Kantor, and Erin Dickens, he tells a tale of injustice perpetrated against an unnamed female victim, while her assailant stands to go unpunished (“A knife full of life penetrated the bait/While he thinks ‘o the sister and the mother that he hates/And he thinks he’ll get off ‘cos he’s sick, and stoned”). This is one of the headier songs from this album, especially with the soaring, almost ethereal vocals at the end of the track, and represents a worthy addition to the Ian Hunter catalog.
The single (catalog #: CBS 4268) was released in the U.K. As far as I know, the single did not have a picture sleeve. “All American Alien Boy” was not as successful as the first album, and Hunter’s third solo album, “Overnight Angels” (1977), was not even released in the U.S. Hunter reunited with Mick Ronson for his fourth solo album, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” (1979), which was Hunter’s first album on Chrysalis some critics consider to be his best album. “Live: Welcome to the Club” (1980) and “Short Back ‘n’ Sides” (1981) sold well in spite of the lack of a hit single. Hunter switched back to Columbia for “All of the Good Ones Are Taken” (1983), on which Mick Ronson only played on one track. Hunter kept a low profile for the next six years, resurfacing in 1989 with “Yui Orta” on Polygram Records, on which Mick Ronson got equal billing. For the first half of the 1990s, Hunter once again dropped out of sight; in the meantime, his longtime collaborator, Mick Ronson, died of cancer in 1993. Hunter returned in 1995 with “Dirty Laundry”, released in the U.S. and Norway. “The Artful Dodger” followed in 1996, an album initially released in the U.K. only. “Rant” was released in 2001 on Repertoire Records, followed by “Shrunken Heads” (2007).