Graded on a Curve:
Mud,
The Very Best of Mud

Ask your average American about English Glam, and she’ll most likely reel off a familiar list of names. David Bowie, Roxy Music, T. Rex, and Mott the Hoople will top the list. Sweet and Slade will most likely come as afterthoughts. As will the likes of Gary Glitter and Suzi Quatro.

But U.K.’s Glam Rock movement had a glitter-encrusted underbelly that only the most tuned in Americans knew about. Alvin Stardust, Geordie, Chicory Tip, and Mud may have been household names in Merry Olde England, but they’re rock’n’roll trivia answers stateside.

I would like to report that this deep pool of unknown talent opens wonderful new vistas to American Glam aficionados, but if Mud is any example, we didn’t miss all that much. A couple of the cuts on 1998’s 20-song The Very Best of Mud shine, and I’m certainly happy to have them around, but for the most part I can only say there’s a good reason why Mud made even less of a dent on the U.S. pop charts than Slade and Gary Glitter.

Which is too bad, because in many ways Mud personified the populist (read: strictly for the tweens) wing of U.K. Glam. And like most of said members of Glam’s populist under echelon, they owed their relatively brief success to two uniquely English impresarios of star-making machinery. The first was superproducer/label owner Mickie Most. The second was the songwriting/production machine that was Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman.

The latter duo was double-handedly responsible for glutting the English pop charts with glitter-flavored bubblegum by Quatro, Sweet, Smokie, and Mud, and you could more or less identify their product by song title alone–”Wig Wam Bam,” “Little Willy,” “Can the Can,” and “Funny Funny” all come to mind. Their glam bam thank you ma’am formula was simple; write an infectious tune with a big hook and zero lyrical calories, slap a silly title on it, and watch it shoot to the Toppermost of the Poppermost.

Thanks to Chinn/Chapman, Mud scored fourteen Top 20 hits between 1973 and 1976, and three of those went to the Top of the Pops. The glitter kids in Merry Olde England knew what they liked, and what they liked was silly glam songs. Call it Baby Glam. And call it inexplicable to anybody who wasn’t listening to the BBC and between the ages of 10 and 15 when they songs were receiving airplay.

How to describe Mud? You can start by listening to Sweet, T. Rex, and Suzi Quatro. Now lower your expectations. Don’t get me wrong; Chinn and Chapman handed Mud two wonderful songs in “Tiger Feet” and “Dyna-Mite” and a few more (see the Gary Glitter-inspired “The Cat Crept In” and big guitar number “The Hippy Hippy Shake”) that are worth hearing.

“Tiger Feet” is their legacy and greatest gift to humankind; it matches a T. Rex groove to big Sweet guitars and works just fine as a piece of ersatz rockabilly thanks in large part to the addictive sing-along choruses. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, of course, but that’s half the charm; “don’t think just sing” was Chinn and Chapman’s unspoken mantra, and it applies here in spades. “Dyna-Mite” works on the exact same formula and is guaranteed to bring the Glam kid out of ya; works for me every time.

The comp includes a short list of okay tunes; “Crazy” could be a lost AM semi-hit; the same goes for the so strange it’s funny “Hypnosis.” (Is that a Native American groove they’re working?) “Living Doll” is lowest common denominator T. Rex. “Moonshine Sally” is all air-brushed vocals attached to an insinuating riff and not half bad. Another one you could imagine hearing coming out of your AM radio. As for “Tallahassee Lassie,” it reminds me of something. It’s right on the tip of my tongue. Wait, I know. It’s “Moonshine Sally”!

As for the rest, most of ‘em are subpar rock’n’roll or rockabilly pastiches; the palatable “Let’s Have a Party,” which is probably the best of ‘em. sounds exactly the way you’d expect it to sound, right down to the honky-tonk piano and Beatle “Wooos!” “Do You Love Me” reminds me of a few of the rock’n’roll homages Mott the Hoople put out. But I’ve never cared for said Mott homages, and Mud sure as hell ain’t the Hoople.

And then there’s their salute to Buddy Holly in the form of a cover of “Oh Boy!” Which is unspeakable. They sound like a pub choir, if such things existed, and they have zero soul, and is it possible poor Buddy died in vain? As for their smash hit and LP closer “Lonely This Christmas,” it’s the sound of the world’s worst Elvis imitator crooning his heart out. Oh, and he also delivers a very heartfelt spoken monologue. I feel lonelier just listening to it.

Mud didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but they brought a modicum of joy to a lot of wee English glamsters and who am I to gainsay that? The Very Best of Mud is overlong, and in many cases their best isn’t all that good; they’d have been better off putting out a much briefer compilation called The Least Possible Best of Mud.

That said, the title is apt insofar as Mud did their very best, on every last song on this long player, to brighten the spirits of their listeners. And there are worse legacies than that, I’m here to tell you.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C+

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