Monday, April 21, 2008

Getting 'stoned' with 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'


Well, I still haven't found it on vinyl, but thanks to Shopper sports guy Ken Lay, I can at least indulge myself in an early '70s rock road show to my heart's content.

You may recall that I found my battered 33 1/3 album of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" -- the expansive, soul-filled, "you gotta be kidding me" road show from March 1970 starring Joe Cocker and featuring Leon Russell on piano, three drummers, a 12-member choir, Rita Coolidge and some of the best rock/soul numbers you'll ever hear -- while moving last month. Alas, the years have not been kind to the vinyl. It's full of scratches, dents, hisses, pops, unplayable even on my relatively new turntable.

So I went on a mini-mission to find it. Lost and Found Records didn't have it. Initial Web searches turned up nothing.

Dewayne Lawson wrote from Georgia to say he'd found it a couple of places. One was too expensive. The other gave no indication of the record's condition.

Well, Ken Lay called last week to say he was making a CD shop run on Friday. Did I want him to look for the compact disc, just so I could listen to the album while searching for a vinyl replacement?

"Sure," I said. "As long as it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg."

Ken found his way to the Disc Exchange and came up with a great, clean copy for less than 10 bucks. I devoted about an hour to it last Friday night before the Braves game.

Some of it is divine (the "Blue Medley" of "I'll Drown in my Own Tears," "When Something is Wrong with my Baby" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long"); some of it is amusing (the 7-minute version of "Let's Go Get Stoned"); and some of it misses the mark (Russell's cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country"). But overall this is larger-than-life, let-it-all-hang-out, sing from your soul excess, perfect for its time, a bit dated now, but still a fine example of what can happen when the musicians and the moment and the crowd and the lyrics all come together.

Apparently, the happy rhythm didn't last long, though. Cocker and Russell were soon sniping at each other. The whole darn tour broke up almost as quickly as it appeared.

But for a few days in the spring of 1970, Joe Cocker got a little help from his friends, and together they rocked from way down deep inside somewhere, singing the way it should be done, throwing it all out there, creating something darn close to art without harboring any pretentious notions of doing so.

The record ended and I drove to Fountain City to record radio spots, humming "She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window" and wondering to myself why in the hell nobody sings like this anymore.

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