Mad Dogs & Englishmen
A&M SP 6002
Released: August 1970
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 53
Certified Gold: 8/31/70
This live two-album set is probably indispensable to die-hard Joe Cocker fans. Anyone else should proceed at his own risk.
The reason isn't too hard to figure out. Mad Dogs and Englishmen was formed on a few days' notice to meet contractual obligations, and sounds like, well, like a group that was formed on a few days' notice to meet contractual obligations. With the exception of Leon Russell, who excels on guitar as well as on piano, no one has any musical identity on this album. Neither is the group as a whole much of a back-up for Cocker. Each guy seems to be playing fills for everyone else, and the arrangements are oh so predictable and mechanical.
Which results in a spiritless version of "Honky Tonk Women," undoubtedly the most spirited song in a good while, a version of "Cry Me a River" that's in its own way as embarrassing as the original, sad fillers like "Superstar," and a host of other songs that so overlap stylistically they tend to blur into one long, semi-interesting piece. Cocker either can't or doesn't want to rise above the cumbersome performance.
There are some highlights. "Feelin' Alright" is rousing, and Joe and the gang do a pretty good job on "Let's Go Get Stoned," though the song suffers from all that superfluous emoting at the end. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" almost saves a blue medley that also included "Drown In My Own Tears" and "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." You can shake your moneymaker to "Give Peace a Chance" (the one written by Russell and Bonnie Bramlett, not John and Yoko), and they close strong with "Delta Lady."
Mad Dogs and Englishmen was a lark, and seemed to be a lot of fun for many. But they sure didn't cut it musically, and let's hope that now that they've disbanded, Joe can reassemble a smaller group akin to the Grease Band and get back to doing his real thing.
- Pete Nartez, Rolling Stone, 10/1/70.
The Joe Cocker flash and whimsy couldn't be better than on this two-LP set. And he gets real heavyweight support, as he belts out in his grimacing style, from his 36 "mad dogs and Englishmen," with it a group of talented musicians and chorus. Songs include those composed by Cohen, Redding, Lennon-McCartney, and Leon Russell.
- Billboard, 1970.
An impressive document, but the same overkill (eleven musicians plus nine backup singers) that was so exhilarating live wears a little thick over a double-LP, especially when you compare the four repeats from Cocker's two studio albums -- he sings more accurately when nobody's rushing him. I love Leon Russell's guitar raveup on "Feelin' Alright," though. And the New Orleans horn break on "Cry Me a River." And "The Letter." B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Joe Cocker is one of the few white voices able to sing the blues with both conviction and power. After the success of his "Ray Charles sings Lennon and McCartney" cover, "With A Little Help From My Friends," Cocker set off for a break in LA after months on the road. Having met Leon Russell at Woodstock, Cocker had him produce a second album and his massive hit "Delta Lady," so it was to Russell that Cocker turned when faced with the necessity of staging an American tour at short notice. The film and soundtrack outcome was the hastily assembled but well rehearsed one-off rock big band recorded here.
Recorded over two nights in March 1970 at the Fillmore East, the Mad Dogs and Englishmen set includes some fine blues singing (with Rita Coolidge never far away), emotional work outs of "Delta Lady" and "The Letter," and covers of Beatles and Stones hits. Frankly, Cocker sounds so stoned or simply exhausted between tracks that his performances are all the more remarkable.
The sound is well mixed (under the auspices of Glyn Johns) and includes just the right amount of audience reaction but lacks the last ounce of dynamic pop and real transparency. The CD is cleaner in the dense brass and backing choir sections.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
The 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour which featured a great, brass-enhanced driving band led by Leon Russell behind Cocker's frenzied vocal antics was one of the decade's more hysterical events -- guaranteed excitement made pervasive by the successful motion picture diary of the tour, one of the first rock concert movies ever released. The sixteen selections are faultless picks (with the exception of Rita Coolidge's one contribution), but the fairly insistent high energy level, perhaps inevitable in this format, becomes somewhat wearing. The concert quality sound is also pretty consistent, and, while clean for its source, has a marked tendency to some overbrightness. B
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
A superb document of Cocker's high-energy 1970 tour, it included about a zillion musicians and hangers-on. All the goods are here, and many consider this Cocker's last great moment. * * * *
- Tom Graves, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Though the band Leon Russell assembled for the live Mad Dogs and Englishmen at times seems loose and intrusive, Cocker really shows his mettle by never letting it overwhelm him. * * * *
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
If such an endeavor around a not-yet-huge artist seems wildly extravagant, chalk it up to the times: This was how they rolled in the early '70s. And Cocker, another of the artists whose profile jumped after appearing at Woodstock in August 1969, looked like a safe bet. Russell, then a Svengali to several artists, believed that the grind-it-out British belter with the Ray Charles obsession could be huge if presented in the right context. So he wrote screaming arrangements of songs Cocker had been singing for years, and positioned the singer at the center of a constantly moving (and frequently gaudy) revue.
Bigger isn't usually better in rock. But Mad Dogs works, in part because the ensemble pushes Cocker in ways few rock singers are ever pushed. He sings Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" as a series of boxing maneuvers, slipping his ad-libs into the (few) open spaces. He feeds off the campy vaudeville backing for the Beatles' "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window." And though he enjoys the power of Russell's ensemble on the full-throttle rock numbers, Cocker is most persuasive when the heat isn't full force: This steady-rolling version of "Cry Me a River" deserves a spot in the hall of fame, as does the sultry version of Russell's "Delta Lady" that closes the program.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
(2006 Complete Fillmore East Concerts edition) Joe Cocker's cosmic-R&B big band of 1970 was one of rock's best-documented short-lived flukes. Pulled together in a week by ringmaster Leon Russell after Cocker found himself minus a backup band on the eve of a U.S. tour, Mad Dogs and Englishmen -- a mass of rhythm players, hornmen and voices, nearly two dozen strong -- dissolved after just two months on the road. But they cut a hit live album along the way and were the subject of a concert film. This six-CD box is more of that circus: four shows from two rousing nights in New York. The set lists vary only slightly. The shows all open with "Honky Tonk Women" and include a long R&B-ballad medley. But there are sublime curveballs: Cocker and Russell singing Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" like a pair of road-worn hobos; the Lovin' Spoonful's "Darling Be Home Soon," transformed by Cocker's rusted pleading. He was then at the peak of his interpretive powers; he also takes rough, heated possession of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" and Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned." But the miracle is the band: a pickup orchestra with saloon-soul swagger. When Cocker encores in the late shows the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," it is with the grateful howl of a man who knows how lucky he is. * * * *
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 8/24/06.
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