Ian Hunter is one of the most criminally underrated artists of the past 50 years. A bold statement perhaps, but when you compare the size of his audience to the scale of his talent, you can’t help but think that somewhere, something’s gone wrong. Not that you get the impression that Hunter care’s too much either way. Since leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974, he’s been quietly forging ahead with his solo career, resolutely sticking to his signature rock and roll and making zero concessions to anyone or anything. The result is some of the finest albums in rock history. If you’ve not yet been initiated into the wonderful world of Ian Hunter, prepare for an education as we countdown the top 10 Ian Hunter albums of all time.
# 10 – Short Back and Sides
When you get Ian Hunter, Mick Jones, Topper Headon, Mick Ronson, Todd Rundgren, and Ellen Foley together on the same album, good things are bound to happen. And good stuff certainly happened on Short Back and Sides. Hunter’s fifth studio album is a tougher, punkier affair than usual, but that’s what happens when you collaborate with two members of The Clash. Not every song works, and the production can get distracting at times. But when it works, it really works. Songs like “Central Park N’ West” and “Gun Control” sound like they’ve been lifted wholesale from London Calling. “Noises” and “Rain” have an experimental Brian Eno quality that, frankly, never goes amiss. And then there are the punk-reggae rhythms of “Theatre of the Absurd,” a track that’s nigh on impossible to resist. It’s not flawless, but it’s still essential listening.
# 9 – All American Alien Boy
Over ten years before Sting was singing about an Englishman in New York, Ian Hunter was recording All American Alien Boy. A concept album in all but name, it finds Ian Hunter caught between the old world and the new, reflecting on the England he’d left behind and the America he’d embraced. He doesn’t seem to like either one very much, but then again, he wouldn’t be Ian Hunter if he did. It’s not necessarily his most consistent album, and the absence of long-time collaborator Mark Ronson is noticeable by the less-than-stellar arrangements. Still, there’s plenty of gems to be found, most noticeably on the autobiographical “Irene Wilde” and the stunningly elegantly ballad “You Nearly Did Me In,” which features some fine backing vocals from Queen. As a whole, the album doesn’t quite gel, but there are enough tasty treats to keep things satisfying.
# 8 – YUI Orta
After the slightly disappointing 1983 album All the Good Ones Are Taken, we didn’t hear from Ian Hunter again until 1989’s YUI Orta. Whereas Mick Ronson was notably absent from its predecessor (bar a piano contribution on “Death and Glory Boys”), here, he’s an integral element, contributing lyrics, backing vocals, and some of those always edifying Ronson guitar lyrics. The result is a punchy piece of rock that proved Hunter still had plenty of gas left in the tank. Produced by former Chic bassist Bernard Edwards, it’s a slick but still soulful offering, with enough hard rock to please the old guard and enough pop candy to appeal to the youngsters. Commercially, it was a disaster, something that had more to do with the record label’s refusal to promote it than the music itself. Regardless, it’s still a fine piece of rock and roll, and a must-listen for Ian Hunter devotees.
# 7 – Fingers Crossed
Anyone who thinks that rock is a young man’s game needs to listen to Fingers Crossed. Ian Hunter was 77 at the time of its release, but he still had enough fire in his belly to set things alight. The rock is a little bit slower and the rolls are a little bit softer, but the lean, intelligent menace is as cutting as ever. At this stage in his career, he’d be forgiven for caving to nostalgia… most of his peers have after all. But he doesn’t. Neither does he try to sound younger than his years or make any concessions to the times. This is an album that could have easily existed in 1976 as 2016. That’s not to suggest it sounds dated. Far from it. Ian Hunter is clever enough to know his limits and astute enough to be guided by them. Thanks to that, he’s still capable of producing albums that sound as vital as this.
# 6 – Man Overboard
On 2009’s Man Overboard, Ian Hunter sounds every one of his 70 years. His rasp is weathered, the tempo is slower, and the arrangements are more acoustic than electrifying. But even if the kicks aren’t as high as they used to be, there’s still enough vigor to keep things rocking. The tunes sound familiar but feel fresh, with the slower pace and dialed back arrangements giving us the opportunity to fully appreciate Ian Hunter’s gift for songcraft. Listening to tracks like the joyfully knowing “The Girl from the Office” and the bittersweet “River of Tears,” it’s clear that age hasn’t withered Ian Hunter’s charms even slightly.
# 5 – Shrunken Heads
Ian Hunter may have gotten more curmudgeonly with age, but being cranky has never stopped anyone from producing a good song. On 2007’s Shrunken Heads, Ian Hunter unleashes a ton of them. While many of his contemporaries seem to think reinvention is the key to staying relevant, Ian Hunter doesn’t. Or maybe he does, but simply doesn’t care as much. Either way, he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Rather than explore new territory, he simply digs deep into his beloved rock and roll and pulls out a cracker. There’s the same combination of thunderous hard rock and wistful ballads he’s been doing since the 70s, but their earthy, muscular treatment keeps things vital. There’s a lot of righteous anger at the state of the world, a few complaints about consumerism, and the odd grumble about how he preferred it “When the World Was Round,” but Ian Hunter’s typically self-deprecating humor keeps things entertaining.
#4 – Welcome To The Club
People loved a double live album in the 1970s. Ian Hunter came a little late to the party with 1980’s Welcome To The Club, but considering it was recorded during his week-long residency at The Roxy in Los Angeles in November 1979, we’ll let it pass. A full-blooded, fist-pumping collection of Mott the Hoople hits and solo classics, the album finds Ian Hunter and his trusty right-hand man Mick Ronson on fighting form. Cool, menacing, and utterly unflappable, they jump from one standout track to the next. The connection between Ian Hunter, Ronson, and the audience is almost palpable, especially when the band drifts into the always evocative “All The Young Dudes.” Recorded a full four years since Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson had last hit the road, it sounds like they’d never been away.
# 3 – Rant
If Ian Hunter has any love for his home country, it’s not obvious from 2001’s Rant. On songs like “Death Of A Nation,” “Ripoff,” and “Morons,” Ian Hunter holds up a lens to modern England and finds it wanting. The album seethes with vitriol against Queen and country, guaranteeing that whatever comes next in Ian Hunter’s career, a knighthood won’t be part of it. But for all its burning passion and righteous anger, this is an album that’s intended to entertain, not incite. Songs like “Still Love Rock’N’Roll,” are pop gold, while the astonishing “Knees of My Heart” is a melancholic musical masterpiece. Thirty-plus years into his career, and Ian Hunter was still firing on more cylinders than most artists could dream of.
# 2 – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic
When Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter came together, you knew you were in for a good time. In 1979, the pair reunited for You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. Joining them were several members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Somewhat predictably, the result was jaw-droppingly good. It didn’t produce any hits (for Ian Hunter at least – Barry Manilow went on to score a Top Ten hit with his cover of the wonderfully ethereal “Ships,” but the less said about that the better), but the album itself became one of Ian Hunter’s biggest selling of all time.
Lyrically, it’s masterful, with songs like “Cleveland Rocks,” “Standin’ In My Light,” and “The Outsider” showcasing Ian Hunter’s genius for creating literate, superbly crafted tunes that hum with rock and roll spirit. John Cale adds some magic to the pulsing rocker “Bastard” and engineer Bob Clearmountain gives the whole thing enough clout to floor an army. It’s a triumph, ranking not only as one of Ian Hunter’s most consistent albums, but as one of the finest albums of the 1970s.
#1 – Ian Hunter
After leaving Mott the Hoople in 1975, Ian Hunter wasted no time in getting back into the studio. Joining him was Mick Ronson. Together, they managed to create one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums of modern times. Ronson’s arrangements are flawless – clever, carefully crafted, and subtle enough not to be a distraction. Hunter’s lyrics, dripping as they are with attitude and intelligence, are sensational. The entire thing is dazzling – if you hear a misstep, then trust us, you’re imagining it.
Just a few of the highlights include “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” a tongue-in-cheek examination of rocks corrupting influence; “Boy,” a scathing account of a rocker who comes to believe in his own myth; “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall,” a lush, beautifully balanced ballad about a troubled friend; “I Get So Excited,” a thumping, swirling rocker that closes the album with a bang… we’d go on, but there’s a risk we’d end up name-checking the entire tracklist. Ultimately, if you want to hear one of the very finest pieces of glam rock ever made, listen to the album. If you don’t, listen to it anyway. There’s always room for one more convert.