There are those that insist that "Mad Dogs & Englishmen," the 1970 record of the Joe Cocker tour, is the high point in the music career of the gravely voiced soul singer. I can see the reasons for the argument, but even with his once powerful voice worn away by alcohol abuse there is something to be said for his sense of phrasing in the later years. He still came up with a great howl on "When the Night Comes" and if I am only allowed to listen to one Joe Cocker track for the rest of eternity I am going to take the monster 9:27 long live version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" that is on "The Best of Joe Cocker." That being said, if you are talking about an entire album, then "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" is the one to go with, because Cocker live was always better than Cocker in the studio, not that this pronouncement is exactly news to anyone.
It helps to set the scene for the 1970 tour. Two years earlier Cocker had hit the top of the charts in the U.K. with his cover of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends," and when he sang the song at Woodstock he made a name for himself in the colonies. Leon Russell became Cocker's musical director and provided a second hit in England with "Delta Lady." Two albums came out in 1969, "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "Joe Cocker!", both of which went gold. What makes this live album so amazing is that Cocker only sings one song form his first album (and it is not even the title cut but "Feelin' Alright") and only three cuts from the second: "Bird on a Wire," "Delta Lady" and another in a series of classic Beatles coves, "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window." So out of 16 songs on the album, a dozen of them are "new" material for Cocker.
Of course such things are a lot easier when you are a cover artist rather than a singer-songwriter. This frees Cocker to come up with songs by the Rolling Stones ("Honky Tonk Woman") and Bob Dylan ("Girl From the North Country"). But whatever the songs a lot of the credit for Cocker's career and this album have to go to Leon Russell and Chris Stainton for coming up with the greatest live arrangements on the Sixties (Give me George Martin in the studio and Leon Russell). The concert was recorded at New York's Filmore East in the spring of 1970 (as a film as well as an album). There were almost two dozen musicians involved, giving a whole new meaning to Noel Coward's famous song title, and the result is the definitive mixture of rock 'n' roll soul with a big brassy sound and Russell's awesome piano playing behind Cocker's powerful vocals.
Part of the impressive result was a couple of Cocker standards in "Cry Me a River" and "The Letter." It was the cover of the later, originally by the Box Tops, that broke Cocker into the U.S. Top 10 for the first time. Other standout tracks include the slower "Superstar" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long, " along with "Give Peace a Chance." Of course, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" went gold as well as if there are those who want to argue that Joe Cocker's first three albums were his best, it is hard to argue with them. My preference for this one as the best of the lot is based almost on much as it being a double-album as it being live, but the live part is still the key consideration.
on July 24, 2000
Not much more can be said about the quality of these performances. Ragged in places, the energy more than makes up for any short comings (real or imaginary) with respect to the players. Leon Russell is a god, but that's getting into a whole other conversation. Simply put, this performance never disappoints.
[25 April 2014]
Mad Dogs has been released numerous times on CD. What follows is a substantial re-write of my original review, because the versions that were current when I first wrote this are long gone, and have been replaced with a couple of others...
There are a few things to guide your purchase: Completeness, Sound Quality, and Price.
The winner for both Completeness and Sound Quality is the 6-disc set released by HIP-O Select. This release included all four shows (each day's matinee and evening show), complete and in their original order. There were only 2,500 sets. The set is no longer available.
Hip-O followed up the 6-disc set with a pair of 3-disc sets (one set for each day). The sound quality is the same as the 6-disc sets and includes all the same material, sequence, etc. with 5,000 of each 3-disc sets being released. The sets are no longer available.
A complete track list for the 6-disc set can be had by going to: www.hip-oselect.com. Click on the Rock / Pop / Country category in the right-hand column, then scroll down in the main window to get to the link for the listing.
To get any of the above, you will spend hundreds of dollars. Assuming you are not ready to spend that much, I would go with the 2-disc set from 2005 (the year after they did the limited releases mentioned above). It will be in a plastic sleeve with "Deluxe Edition" on the front, lower right. The sound quality should be as good as the limited edition releases, and it will give you more than the original issue. Next down on the list would be the release this review is attached to. The sound quality will not be as good, and the track list is that of the original release.
If you go after any older releases, you will take a substantial hit in sound quality, and none of them have any additional performances beyond the original release.
on April 16, 2004
So much happened in pop music from 1964-73 that looking back at it, all most people see are the highest peaks. We tend to forget the overall sense of discovery and excitement as the musicians of that time pushed ever forward to try something new, or to revive something old in a new way.
A case in point is this utterly enjoyable album by Joe Cocker, a document of a brief but memorable tour with a band that featured about 10 singers, 3 drummers, 2 horn players, and a great piano-organ-guitar-bass section featuring Leon Russell, Chris Stainton and Carl Radle. There were a lot of musicians on stage, making a stew of music that combined tambourine-shaking white and black gospel, sophisticated Ray Charles-type blues, and British rock. Very quickly, this style went out of style. Leon Russell's time in the limelight was short, as was Delaney and Bonnie's and they were the primary exponents of this sound. In truth, Joe Cocker was probably a strange choice to front a band like this--it's more of a Leon Russell production in many ways. But the combination works magically on this album. Cuts like "Honky Tonk Woman," and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" rock out, while the middle section of the album featuring a couple of Ray Charles classics, "Drown in My Own Tears" and "Let's Go Get Stoned," and other R&B songs seem very close to Cocker's heart. Russell gives us the great "Delta Lady" and "Superstar" (sung by Rita Coolidge), and his piano dominates the album's biggest hits, "The Letter" and "Cry Me a River," in which he proves that almost any pop song can be sanctified. A few cuts fall short--the version of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," sounds terrible, and Russell's "Give Peace a Chance" is the kind of repetitive chant that quickly became a self-parody of this style. But another hippie gospel number, "Space Captain" is a lot of fun, with the choir's well-timed oohs and aahs.
The thing that continually lifts up "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is the quality of the musicianship. Cocker is in great voice, the choir is very effective, the horn players make 2 players sound like 10, and the rhythm section is tight as a frog's eyelids. It's not surprising--there is a direct line on this album extending from Delaney and Bonnie, where a lot of the backup musicians came from, to George Harrison, who used many of the same rhythm players on "All Things Must Pass," and who played live in the Bengla Desh benefit with Leon Russell, to "Layla" in which Eric Clapton teamed with several of these musicians to become Derek and the Dominos. Like Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker was just passing through this musical community, but when they came together, brief as it was, they made something rather magical.
on June 24, 2000
The consistent energy level on this great recording of the outrageous Mad Dogs tour is quintessential Joe Cocker. His renditions of Cry Me a river, Delta Lady, The Letter, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window and others are definitive and find him pushing the limit while rocking the house down. Joe is backed by a virtual all-star band featuring Leon Russell, Chris Stainton, a crack horn and rhythm section, a soulful choir and many more.
This tour was incredible not only in the energetic performances Joe and his cohorts delivered every night, but also in the fact that Joe and his Mad Dog's entourage played 48 cities in 56 days! Coming off his sonic performance at Woodstock the previous summer, this was the ticket to get in 1970. Some may quibble about the recording sound, but for the sheer power of electrifying performances that cannot be matched in intensity. Joe had to recover after this tour from exhaustion as the energy exerted was genuine... a rocking joy from start to finish, this is a classic album!
Joe Cocker's "Maddogs And Englishmen" is without question one of the greatest live rock albums ever made. Recorded in 1970 at New York's Fillmore East, Leon Russell assembled an allstar band and choir to back up Joe on a nation wide tour that played to full venues and rave reviews. If Joe's opening rendition of "Honky Tonk Woman" does not get you off your seat nothing will! Great live cuts like "Feelin Alright[featuring awesome Leon Russel guitar work], "Cry Me A River", "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window", "Space Captain", "The Letter" and "Delta Lady" document the frenzy surrounding Joe Cocker in his young prime making this live recording along with the Allman Brothers "Live At The Fillmore" as the two greatest early 70's rock concerts ever recorded. If you have not seen the movie documentary of this tour I highly recommend you do. If you enjoyed "Woodstock", you will surely enjoy "Maddogs And Englishmen". A forty piece rock n roll band is not something you come across everyday, so sit back and enjoy this digitally remastered musical time capsule in the name of "COCKER POWER".
on February 15, 1999
Listening to Mad Dogs and Englishmen, it can be hard to believe that this was cut nearly thirty years ago, or am I just older than I care to admit. Apart from a few ropey moments, mostly courtesy of Leon Russell, this album is just sensational. The sound quality is amazing, the playing is tight, the songs are great and it just plain oozes soul. Head straight for "Drown in my own tears" and "Space Captain", rather than the more obvious well known tracks like "Delta Lady". What really amazes me about this album (and in the same category goes stuff like "Astral Weeks" and "Steve Stills 2") is just how little we have progressed. It may be 30 years old, but it is all there. You won't regret buying this, and if anyone out there knows of an album in the same style that has really advanced the plot since 1970, I'm all ears!
on September 3, 2013
If you are too young to remember when this came out, it is clearly a piece of "Post-Woodstock History". While the music industry threatened Joe at a point when he really needed a rest, with a lot of energy/help from Leon Russell, this tour was put together quickly. I believe Joe really took a beating, as I saw him in concert in 1974 and he was a mess. Thank goodness, after quite some time, he got back on track. A talented man who is responsible for introducing so much talent to the masses, and the greedy music industry took advantage of that fact.
The result, here, is a piece of music history. If you like Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, or anyone in that circle of musicians, you owe it to yourself to have the cd loaded in your player and the case/insert in hand. If you never heard Joe and Friends, this is a great way to meet them.
PS: His first studio album is also well worth owning. The list of musicians on that is amazing. You will not be disappointed.
You will find to Joe Cocker in the peak of his powers . With that unmistakeable and grasping voice , and incredible energy loaded in every track.
Leon Russell- that living legend - support in the keyboards, the rhytmic section and the chords were absolutely outstanding .
Consider the Letter , Feeling alright , She came in through ... , Delta Lady or Cry me a river and listen them again in studio version . Once more you will notice that the great majority of the rock artists adcquired an additional histamine and powerful resource inspiring to perform and Joe got to me his masterpiece album .
Search the extraordinary and unbeatable version of Rita Coolidge singing Superstar.This performance is by far, much better than the Carpenters version , it inner mood is so much introspective , warm and deep.
An album without any hole . A timeless classic specially recommended for Cocker hard fans and for all those people who are reall interested in knowing what is going on in the two golden rock and roll ages : the sixties and the seventies .
on October 5, 2001
This CD is AWESOME! It is one of Joe Cocker's best and I never get tired of playing it. Some songs on the album which aren't well known were a great surprise. I particularly liked the duet between Joe and Leon Russell on "Girl From the North Country". Also "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" is stirring. One song which is rarely noted is "Space Captain" where Joe belts out some amazing deep phlegm sounding hollers that are amazing! This album was worth 10x the price for the amount of time I play it. Also- It introduced me to Leon Russell, who I now have become a big fan of as well.
on December 18, 1999
Here is an album that is so full of raw energy and honest emotion that it should thrill anyone who loves rocking blues. Joe's backup band may have been put together in a hurry for this tour, but Leon did a fantastic job of organizing it and provides the backbone for the high level of energy that comes through every song. Joe is one of the best blues/rock artists to come out of the sixties and this album will always be timeless as a true classic of that era. Bravo Joe and Leon!