Joe Cocker was one of the breakout stars of Woodstock, opening the festival's final day with a cover-fueled set in which the animated British soulman introduced the Air Guitar to the world under the influence of any number of chemicals. In an effort to solidify his newfound fame, Cocker began a taxing support tour following the concert and lasting until early 1970. With the tour finally complete Cocker parted ways with his backing band and moved to Los Angeles to plan his next move only to learn the very next day that his manager had extended the tour with an eight-week stateside stand and that should he balk, Cocker would be effectively frozen out of returning to the United States from that point on.
Trapped with a surprise tour and no band to back it, Cocker called on Angeleno music mastermind Leon Russell to use his connections to get Cocker a pickup band on short notice. Russell seemingly used every last one of them, assembling a 35-piece behemoth behind the soulman and rehearsing it day and night for the tour which would become the Mad Dogs and Englishmen album and Concert Film.
Tracklist (original 1970 release)
- "Introduction" (0:44)
- "Honky Tonk Women" (3:47)
- "Introduction" (0:17)
- "Sticks and Stones" (2:37)
- "Cry Me A River" (4:00)
- "Bird On The Wire" (6:37)
- "Feelin' Alright" (5:47)
- "Superstar" (5:02)
- "Introduction" (0:16)
- "Let's Go Get Stoned" (7:30)
- "Blue Medley, consisting of "I'll Drown In My Own Tears", "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (12:46)
- "Introduction" (0:21)
- "Girl From The North Country" (2:32)
- "Give Peace A Chance" (4:14)
- "Introduction" (0:41)
- "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" (3:01)
- "Space Captain" (5:15)
- "The Letter" (4:46)
- "Delta Lady" (5:40)
Let's go list tropes!
- Always Need What You Gave Up: Not one day after laying his band off did Cocker end up browbeaten into touring again. What are the odds?
- Bicep-Polishing Gesture: Cocker does this on the album cover.
- Boxed Set: Continuing a recent trend with classic rock recordings, a 2006 boxed set collects all four concerts from the Fillmore East theater in New York City.
- Concert Film: One of the most famous examples of the early seventies, Mad Dogs And Englishmen premiered while flower power was still in, and the non-concert segments certainly show as much. Drug use is frankly portrayed throughout while an entire sequence is devoted to the musicians forming a circle, of all things.
- Cover Album: Most of the songs are covers of then-contemporary performers in both rock (The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan) and soul (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave). Cocker was almost exclusively a cover artist, after all, and the band barely had time to rehearse even the well-known cover songs. An original single, "Space Captain", nonetheless emerged from the rehearsal sessions and is one of Cocker's more famous songs.
- Face on the Cover: Cocker is seen on the center of the album cover.
- Improv: Cocker treats The Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" as a platform to invent lyrics nightly.
- Let's Duet: Cocker and Russell share lead duties on "Girl From The North Country".
- Live Album: A companion album came out with the film, compiled from the New York nights. Since home video technology was in its infancy, the album was far more widely available than the film.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: A rare live rock example, the "Mad Dogs" band features a mix of star session men like Jim Keltner and Russell with complete amateur backing singers, small children, and a dog.
- Medley: The "Blue Medley", combining Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears", Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby", and Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long".
- Non-Appearing Title: The band never does cover Noël Coward's "Mad Dogs And Englishmen", the film's namesake. Rereleases of the album became an odd aversion, featuring Russell's later single "The Ballad Of The Mad Dogs And Englishmen" as a bonus track.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Backing vocalist Rita Coolidge became a minor star after her performance of "Superstar", later Covered Up by the Carpenters. Russell, Don Preston, and Claudia Lennear all take less-heralded turns at the mic as well.
- Supporting Leader: Joe Cocker may be the star of the show in name and voice, but Russell is the architect of the entire program, both onstage (as multi-instrumentalist and sometime vocalist) and off, organizing the entire thing. Being pushed aside on his own tour ended up taking a toll on Cocker, who at one point seems to regret the loss of his original band.