Joe Cocker: ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ Album Review

We lost one of the greatest vocalist of all time just a bit over a year ago, on December 22nd, 2014.  Best known for the Billy Preston cover of “You Are So Beautiful” in 1975, Joe Cocker cemented his reputation as a superstar. However, he had been a powerhouse since the late 1960s. My first Joe Cocker experience was his stellar performance of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” from the film, Woodstock, and the rest is history.

Recorded live at the Fillmore East, Mad Dogs and Englishmen was released in 1970 to critical praise. Cocker was never a songwriter, but he made each of his covers uniquely his own. The album features the Rolling Stones-penned “Honky Tonk Woman,” the Beatles classic, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” and a funky cover The Box Tops’ “The Letter.” With Leon Russell, the group offers up some jaw-dropping renditions of three more Beatles classics, including Harrison’s “Something,” McCartney’s “Let it Be” as well as Lennon and McCartney’s “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

At the core, Cocker and company were steeped heavy in the blues and powered through the Ray Charles original, “Drown in My Own Tears” and the Bobby Blue Bland classic, “Further on Up the Road.” The disc also features what would become Joe Cocker staples, such as Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Russell original, “Delta Lady.” Rita Coolidge grabs the mic and offers a stellar performance of Delaney and Bonnie’s “Superstar.” Not to go unnoticed, Leon uses his unique voice on “Dixie Lullaby” and “Hummingbird,” as well as the title track. 

In 2005, the record was released with additional tracks for the 35th anniversary of the album. The following year, it was released again as a 6-disc compilation, which covered all four shows from 1970 and was titled, The Complete Fillmore East Concerts. This album is a testament to Joe Cocker’s ability to take a song and put his own unique spin on it. Furthermore, it showcases just what a dynamic performer he was. If you are a novice to Joe Cocker’s music, Mad Dogs and Englishmen would be a great place to start.

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