Talking About You
20 Yards Behind
All Through The City
I'm a Man
Walking The Dog
She Does It Right
Going Back Home
I Don't Mind
Back in the Night
I'm a Hog for You Baby
Checking Up on My Baby
The arsey concision of Dr. Feelgood’s third LP Stupidity was the perfect antidote to the flabby complacency of Californian soft rock. A sharp symbiosis of Lee Brilleaux’s tough vocals and the terse choppiness of Wilko Johnson’s guitar lines, it was also the first live album to top the UK charts in its first week, in the autumn of 1976.
The chart position may sound unlikely from this distance, but The Feelgoods were creating havoc on a nightly basis, and won acres of coverage in the influential music press. And by the time Stupidity topped the charts, the music scene had been shaken up by the emergence of punk.
Members of The Buzzcocks, The Clash, and The Damned have since owned up to being early Feelgood fanatics, and there is photographic evidence of the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon wearing a Dr. Feelgood badge (and grinning). The band had captured the imagination of the nation’s youth, or at least those who imagined themselves brandishing a guitar as a means of escaping the dole queue.
“This was the culmination of the revolution against the stack heel and platform shoes brigade,” remarked Brilleaux. “We said bollocks to all that, this is how a live band really goes to work.”
“If there is such a thing as aural GBH then Stupidity should get the Feelgoods sent down for a long stretch,” wrote Melody Maker, clearly in agreement.
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in September 1976
- A New World Record - Electric Light Orchestra
- Hard Rain - Bob Dylan
- One More from the Road - Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Ringo's Rotogravure - Ringo Starr
- Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap - AC/DC
- Technical Ecstasy - Black Sabbath
- All the World's a Stage - Rush
- Jump on It - Montrose
- Let's Stick Together - Bryan Ferry
- Private Eyes - Tommy Bolin
- Small Change - Tom Waits
- Troubadour - JJ Cale
- The Whole World's Goin' Crazy - April Wine
What they said...
"Comprised of recordings taken from 1975 tours, the live Stupidity finally captures the relentless, hard-driving energy of Dr. Feelgood at their peak. All the music on Stupidity is presented raw and without overdubs, making it clear that the dynamic friction between guitarist Wilko Johnson and vocalist Lee Brilleaux could propel the band toward greatness." (AllMusic)
"With the music cut to the bare bone, with Brilleaux's rubbed-raw vocals and Johnson's powerhouse chopppy guitar and economic solos, and a rhythm section of drummer The Big Figure and bassist Sparko, here was a band that had clearly paid its dues on the live circuit. They drew from Rufus Thomas (Walking The Dog), the dirty end of Leiber and Stoller (I'm A Hog For You Baby), Solomon Burke (the title track) and Bo Diddley (I'm A Man) – but Johnson contributed the majority of the band's material. And memorably short songs they were." (Elsewhere)
"If you close your eyes while listening to Stupidity you can 'see' Wilko bouncing back and forward on stage, his coiled guitar lead stretching and then recoiling as he staggers back with his manic stare. Lee Brilleaux menaces up front, growling and spitting out the lyrics. And Sparks and the Big Figure drive the set on at a relentless pace. This captures the original Feelgood line-up at their peak." (Review Centre)
What you said...
Mike Canoe: I vaguely knew of Dr. Feelgood in a "roots of punk" sort of way and had heard (and forgotten) Riot in Cell Block No. 9. But then a friend of mine posted a clip on Facebook of the band tearing through She Does It Right on a 1975 TV appearance.
Hot damn! I was instantly smitten. The growling singer looked like he was fighting through an ulcer, throat and eyes bulging as he loosened his tie. And then there was the pencil thin guitarist zipping forward and back, his right hand chopping across the strings. It was the coolest thing I'd seen happen to a guitar since Pete Townshend's windmills. That the song was an absolute banger was almost gravy. I wanted more Dr. Feelgood.
As is often the case with bands from way back when, the challenge is figuring out where to start. My general aversion to live albums by bands I don't know well kept me from Stupidity until this week. When it works, it works a charm and when it doesn't, it works well enough.
Of the original 15 tracks, All Through the City and Roxette are the only originals that hit me the same way She Does It Right did. Back In the Night is OK but I was surprised that it wasn't a cover.
And there are a lot of covers, almost 2/3 of the original album and bonus single. Does the world need another cover of I'm a Man or Walking The Dog? Probably not. Another cover of Johnny B. Goode? Definitely not. At the same time, Stupidity reminded me that I wanted to check out more of Solomon Burke's music since reading Nick Hornsby's High Fidelity way before the days of YouTube and streaming services.
Even with all the covers, it's hard for me to think of Stupidity as a disappointment. It's the same thrill of discovery I felt hearing Alex Harvey or Be-Bop Deluxe or Rory Gallagher or any other number of "new to me" club picks. Crate digging is a lot easier in the digital age - if I can remember everything I want to listen to.
Phil Wise: What a great R&B album (and I mean that in the true sense, not the other!). Had the fortune to see Wilko a couple of times (with ex Blockheads bassist Norman Watt Roy too), and whereas he is very much not a note perfect guitarist) and he exudes the energy present in this album. Great stuff!
Iain Macaulay: Shortest review yet. F’n barnstormer of an album. Worth it for Roxette alone. Just listen to it. Thank you.
Barry Keogh: First time listening to this and it was really good, had heard a few Dr. Feelgood tunes over the years and enjoyed them and also saw the Oil City Confidential doc a few years back. Great album, would recommend to anyone.
Andrew Cumming: Now we're talking! What an album this is! There's very few albums I just recommend to anyone, but this is one of them. Just a joy from start to finish. If you've not done so, check out Oil City Confidential and get the story, but – more importantly – the visuals of the band. Lee in that white suit, all menace. Big Figure and John B Sparks, the most solid bass line in rock. And then Wilko. Darting here and there like literally nothing and no-one has ever before or since. What a show they must have put on. For those of us who missed them, we're left with this. It'll do. It's great. 10/10 all the way
Fred Varcoe: Anyone referring to this as pub rock needs a good talking to. This is brutal r'n'b from the dark side of the Crossroads. The combination of Wilko's guitar and Lee's menacing vocals just made you feel really, really pumped and not a little bit scared. Play this to a New Romanticist and they'll piss their pants. This is adult rock'n'roll, son.
Greg Schwepe: *tap tap tap* So, that’s a written interpretation of what my foot was doing while listening to the first track of Dr. Feelgood’s Stupidity. Turned it on in my car after work and at the first traffic light one minute later I had already gotten hooked. That’s how you do it, folks! A band I had never heard of already had my undivided attention. I was already pretty psyched, and I still had the remaining 14 tracks to listen to.
Ironically, the day before this week’s selection was announced, I had been listening to Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp!\ So, I was already in a “UK pub/punk/R&B/boogie/rock/whatever this is” mood. And then comes along a fun live album to review.
Since this is live album, I decided to review it as if I was seeing the band for the first time at a festival somewhere in the Midwest of the U.S. of A. And sorry, UK buddies, only using U.S. as a mythical festival site because there is a greater chance for good summer weather and no rain or mud!
At our imaginary festival a roadie goes “Ladies and Gentlemen… Dr. Feelgood” and the band launches into I’m Talking About You. Fast boogie. You’re already grooving at the festival even though you've not heard these guys until two minutes ago. The rest of the crowd starts to groove as well. Yes, sometimes a good backbeat and simple arrangements are all you need. And yes, I’m in the mood for some harmonica as well. There will be plenty of that over the course of the album.
By the time we get to Walking The Dog you’re in; hook, line, and sinker. Those at our mythical festival that know the band are singing along on the choruses. Everyone is having fun. And that’s not just because you’re visited the beer truck several times already. Liking what you hear, you’re already thinking you may have to head to the merch stand to get a t-shirt.
Other standouts are I’m a Hog for You Baby, Johnny B. Goode, and the great show closer Milk And Alcohol. Basically, you have an album that you could crank at a party and it’s got that rhythm and vibe that pulls people in right away.
I did have to laugh at a few of the segues between tracks. While some are faded nicely between songs, some are flat just cut off. Then the next track starts. Sounds like something I would’ve done in high school while trying to copy stuff with only one cassette deck. But hey, not everything needs to be perfect to be enjoyed.
Great introduction to a new band. And after this, I may find myself listening to only live stuff from Dr. Feelgood.
Andy Price: I first came across Dr. Feelgood when I heard Milk & Alcohol as a teenager in the late 70s. I then discovered the earlier Wilko stuff which was a bit of a revelation. They were by all accounts an electrifying live band and the YouTube clips are testament to that. Anyone who has never heard Stupidity I urge you to check it out you won’t be disappointed. It’s a 10 from me.
John Davidson: Dr Feelgood played old fashioned rock, rhythm and blues and they played it well.
Wilko Johnson provided them with a peculiar, choppy guitar style and his signature hopping duck walk was a sight to behold. Homespun, ramshackled and – let's face it – downright ugly looking were the new watch words if you wanted to be part of the new wave alongside Nick Lowe, Dave Edmonds and Elvis Costello.
It's no surprise that Dr Feelgood didn't break into the US market. Their scrappy underdog charm was never going to compete with the big guns and the US and Canada already had plenty bands doing the same sort of thing in the likes of George Thorogood and the early careers of J Geils (and I presume loads of folks that never made it into UK airwaves).
Johnson is not however a soloing bluesman like Rory Gallagher or Robin Trower, which means that the songs and the vocals are the draw rather than the guitar hero.
Lee Brilleaux (singer and harmonica) provides the focus and carries it pretty well with the sort of grubby charisma that comes with honest sweaty graft.
Wilko gave it one more album after this before going solo and Brilleaux took the band closer to the limelight with Milk & Alcohol from the album Private Practice (1978). He also helped fund Stiff Records, which was part of the post punk new wave sound in the UK.
Back to this album... it's certainly listenable but it (and Dr Feelgood generally) suffer from the lack of a killer song or a truly stand out musician to elevate them beyond the ordinary. It's working men's music from working men's pubs & clubs and there is an honesty to that but it wasn't enough to make them stars. Best track : Roxette.
Gary Claydon: Pub-Rock, punk's hard-as-nails older brother. Everybody who was ever in a pub-rock band was a geezer and the top of the pile? Canvey Island's own Dr.Feelgood, the pub-rock scene's only real "breakout' band.
From time-to-time you see headlines in the music press proclaiming things like 'The world's most dangerous band' and it will invariably be above a photo of a bunch of blokes wearing make-up and what look like women's blouses. Nothing wrong with that, hell, I lived through and loved 70s glam! But 'dangerous'? Fuck off! You don't know what a 'dangerous' band looks like if you never saw Dr.Feelgood play live.
Front and centre was Lee Brilleaux, wearing a suit that looked like he'd slept in it all night in the doorway of Woolworths before heading off to the gig, stopping on the way to change the oil in his motor. Blowing a mean blues harp and with a growl for a voice that could make the sweetest lyric sound like he was offering you outside for a fight. Prowling round the stage with his deranged duck walk and choppy, Mick Green-influenced guitar style was Wilko Johnson, oozing malevolence.
I like to imagine that if Rasputin, the Mad Monk, had joined a rock'n'roll band, he would look like Wilko did. Possibly. It's no wonder they cast him as the executioner Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones and you know for an absolute certainty that, any second now, he's coming off that stage and smashing every one of our heads in with that guitar. Behind them, the rhythm section of John B.Sparks and The Big Figure, unerringly homing in on the groove and sticking to it like some kind of laser-guided limpet mine. The sum of these parts? Stripped back to the bone, R&B brilliance.
Live is where they excelled. Sure, they made some excellent studio albums but it was in concert that they came alive and Stupidity is a fine illustration of that. You want highlights? I'm tempted to say just press play and you're getting them, from the first bars of I'm Talking About You right to the last note of the brilliant closer Roxette (or if you were lucky enough to get the bonus 7" single that came with the first 20,000 copies, Johnny B.Goode') In between are 13 (or 15) chunks of hard-driving, energetic, raw and electrifying rock.
If I was forced to pick a favourite track it would probably be All Through The City. Or She Does It Right. Or Riot In Cell Block No.9 or Going Back Home. Hell, don't take my word for it, just listen to it and make your own mind up! Special mention should be made of I'm a Hog For You Baby and, in particular, Wilko's two-note guitar solo. 30-odd bars, back and forth, just two-notes and every bit as brilliant as anything any Eric Van Satriamsteen axe-wizard could come up with.
If you want slick production and a 'live' sound polished up by studio gimmickery, then you'd probably be better off giving 'Stupidity' a miss. This is a warts and all live album and is so back-to-basics it's almost primal. Maximum R&B and then some from one of the all-time great British bands.
Final Score: 8.56 (57 votes cast, total score 488)
Join the Album Of The Week Club on Facebook to join in. The history of rock, one album at a time.