Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen - Album Of The Week Club review

The live album of Joe Cocker and Leon Russell's shambolic, chaotic, sex-fuelled, Mad Dogs & Englishmen rock’n’roll circus

Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen cover art
(Image: © A&M)

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Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen cover art

(Image credit: A&M)

Honky Tonk Women
Sticks and Stones
Cry Me a River
Bird on the Wire
Feelin' Alright
Let's Go Get Stoned
Blue Medley
Girl from the North Country
Give Peace a Chance
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Space Captain
The Letter
Delta Lady

Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishman was a double vinyl live album recorded on the singer's legendary US tour – a quite mad, chaotic rock’n’roll circus-like extravaganza with more than 30 musicians in the band – which left the him ill and virtually broke. 

It also resulted in this stunning (and extravagantly packaged) live record, fizzing with energy and at times bursting with outrageous big-band instrumentation, with piano player Leon Russell the ringmaster and bandleader. 

The director of the subsequent Mad Dogs documentary (which Cocker unexpectedly had to bankroll), Pierre Adidge, recalled: “It was no ordinary tour. They brought together the finest musicians in Hollywood, who all went because they wanted to go, because they wanted to be a part of this whole giant effort. They wanted to be together through their music."

Tensions ran high in the Mad Dogs camp. Russell had become envious and began to muscle his way up the pecking order. The man who’d started out like his brother suddenly “took over the whole show, became like a slave master,” insisting on pre-show communal meals, communal sex and gang-style sermons, in which the Mad Dogs held hands and praised the Lord, before proceeding to get utterly wasted. 

The tour itself was an unwieldy shambles. Cocker often didn’t know the lyrics and clammed up, until Russell told him: “Doesn’t matter, man. Just sing what you like.” So he did.

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Other albums released in August 1970

  • Future Blues - Canned Heat
  • A Question of Balance - The Moody Blues
  • Runt - Todd Rundgren
  • Weasels Ripped My Flesh - The Mothers of Invention Eric Clapton - Eric Clapton
  • Metamorphosis - Iron Butterfly
  • Hawkwind - Hawkwind
  • Stage Fright - The Band
  • Scorpio's Dance - Shocking Blue
  • Easy Does It - Al Kooper
  • Just for Love - Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon - Status Quo
  • Mongrel - The Bob Seger System
  • The Rill Thing - Little Richard
  • Mungo Jerry - Mungo Jerry


What they said...

"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." (Rolling Stone)

"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. (Robert Christgau)

"Unlike a lot of other 'coffee table'-type rock releases of the era, such as Woodstock and The Concert for Bangladesh, people actually listened to Mad Dogs & Englishmen -- most of its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique." (AllMusic)


What you said...

Mike Canoe: I only listened to the whole sprawling two and a half hour plus deluxe edition of Mad Dogs and Englishmen once, then went back and focused specifically on the songs I liked with Joe Cocker as lead or co-lead singer - which, turns out, is most of them.

The choir is absolutely fantastic, making nearly every song they're on sound like a gospel number. It works particularly well on The Weight, Cry Me a River, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, and Bird on the Wire - well, essentially any song with the choir on it that started playing while writing this review. Space Captain sounds like the funnest hymn I never heard in church - "Whooo!...Ahhh!."

But even the much quieter "irl From North Country, with only Leon Russell accompanying on vocals and piano, is simply beautiful. It's very rare that I like a song stretched out live, but I wanted way more than the 2 1/2 minutes they gave us.

Whether you listen to the original hour and sixteen version (but cheat yourself out of The Weight and With A Little Help From My Friends) or the twice as long deluxe edition (with a lot more help - and solo numbers - from his friends), this is an incredibly fun album.

Mark Deakin: Bloody good album.

Chris Elliott: It's my idea of hell: an extended jam with the kitchen sink thrown in. I tried twice, but three tracks is the best I managed before running away. I can vaguely see how it may have worked live with everything else going on, but on record – and a pretty bad recording at that – it leaves me completely cold

Brian Carr: I imagine it was a lot more fun to be there, either in the audience or on the stage. To listen after the fact? Well… I liked the loose vibe, but extended outros with repetitive vocal lines don’t typically do it for me. I might listen again at some point, but I’m not chomping at the bit to do so.

Brian Gasser: One of the greatest live albums ever.

Steve Claggett: Of the many great tracks on this album, I think Space Captain is my favourite.

Fausto Barusolo: Unfortunately the sound quality is very bad.

Laurent Biehly: Brilliant. What a line-up.

Meldon Brindley: This is what concerts used to be like. Just a band having fun and playing great tunes. Good stuff.

Norma Mona Gaylord LeBarron: What a treasure!

Steve Pereira: I saw the film when it was released in cinemas around 1971. A glorious sprawling mess where Leon Russell makes up for lack of rehearsal of the assemblage with a Phil Spector massed clamour. The stage was often awash with living creatures - musicians, roadies, groupies, children, "Cooking Italians", fans, photographers, passers by, several dogs (some with flowers in their collar), a handful of drummers and Miss Brown Sugar / Lady Grinning Soul herself, Claudia Lennear. 

Somewhere in the fray is a somewhat lost and drowned Joe Cocker - with nothing like the emotional energy and stature of his Woodstock performance. As much (or more) a vehicle for Leon Russell as Joe Cocker, the split screen film did help build Cocker's popularity, and is a wonderful record of the more casual way of life in the early Seventies - though it is not quality. 

The film was grainy and blurred, the sound (on both film and album) muddy, the performances messy and casual (and how could they not be with that amount of people all over the place, including a groupie sitting on Chris Stainton's lap while he plays the keyboards). But what stood out then, and still stands out now, is how wonderfully warm, encompassing, and inclusive it all is. The casualness, the mess, the dogs, the children, it all adds up to a very engaging and likeable slice of humanity. We should love each other more. Less striving for perfection, more striving for warmth and understanding. With a little help from our friends we can all be happier and better people.

Evan Sanders: Mad Dogs & Englishmen is Joe Cocker's tour de force. Although the reviewers point out that the tour was more of a showcase for Leon Russell's arranging, the album features Cocker on a variety of songs that he made into his own. I see that it was released only a few months after the Woodstock album. For those who had only heard Cocker from his first studio albums and from With A Little Help From My Friends on Woodstock, this expanse over four sides showed that he could keep it going for more than one song. 8/10.

John Davidson: I'm sorry, i pretty much bailed after the first two songs. starting off with covers of the Stones and the Beatles is a ballsy choice and on the back of his celebrated Woodstock performance I can sense the confidence, but neither version improves on the original, instead reducing them to shambolic rhythm and blues jams.

Cocker has a great voice but that's not enough to keep me interested.

The opening instrumental section prelude to Honky Tonk Woman showed promise, but when it settled in to the song I lost interest.

I did, out of fairness, give his first album a quick listen and it is much tighter, much less rambling affair and this version of Feelin' Alright is an improvement on the Traffic original, but that isn't translated onto the version on this album which again falls down the good time rock'n'soul rabbit hole. Not for me, 3/10.


Final score: 8.41 (93 votes cast, total score 783)

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