- The sound is rich and tubey, with driving energy and the top end and clarity that was simply missing from far too many of the copies we had to work through in order to find this one
- 4 1/2 stars: “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.”
What this album most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics – Honky Tonk Woman, Feelin’ Alright, Give Peace a Chance, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, The Letter, Delta Lady – mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few of his own hits, many of which were written by the brilliant Leon Russell himself.
One thing we learned from our shootout was how important TRANSPARENCY is to the enjoyment of this music. Of course, this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.
When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys and gals are live on stage. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (singers here, drummer there), but the transparency of the better pressings makes them sound like they are all on the same stage singing and playing together. You hear their grunts and laughter way back in the mix, just as if you were at the concert.
All tracks were engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer, then selected and mixed by the equally legendary Glyn Johns.
What the best sides of Mad Dogs and Englishmen have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What to Listen For
The weaker copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Many are also somewhat opaque as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top-end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).
And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics, mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few hits of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro, in this case, is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation.)
If you get the wrong stampers on this record you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly transferred dub tape. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers. That’s how we do it; there is in fact no other way. Trial and error is the name of the record hunting game.
What We’re Listening For on Mad Dogs and Englishmen
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
Honky Tonk Woman
Sticks and Stones
Cry Me a River
Bird on a Wire
Let’s Go Get Stoned
Blue Medley: I’ll Drown in My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong
Girl from the North Country
Give Peace a Chance
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Mad Dogs & Englishmen was just about the most elaborate album that A&M Records had ever released, back in 1971, a double LP in a three-panel, fold-out, gatefold sleeve, with almost 80 minutes of music inside and a ton of photos, graphics, and annotation wrapping around it.
A live recording done in tandem with a killer documentary film of the same U.S. tour, it was recorded at the Fillmore East, where the movie was a cross-country affair, and the two were, thus, completely separate entities — also, as people couldn’t “buy” the film in those days, the double LP has lingered longer in the memory, by virtue of its being on shelves, and also being taken off those shelves to be played.
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.
1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
Joe Cocker has said that when this project began in 1970, he didn’t know most of the musicians assembled by songwriter/arranger Leon Russell for what turned out to be his most important U.S. tour. It’s easy to believe that, because there were some thirty-six people involved on stage — horn players, strings, backing singers, and an extra-large rhythm section with multiple drummers and keyboard players. Their nightly exploits were documented by a film crew that traveled coast-to-coast, and recorded by Cocker’s label, A&M Records, at several stops. (This double album was recorded at New York’s Fillmore East.)
If such an endeavor around a not-yet-huge artist seems wildly extravagant, chalk it up to the times: This was how they rolled in the early ’70s. And Cocker, another of the artists whose profile jumped after appearing at Woodstock in August 1969, looked like a safe bet. Russell, then a Svengali to several artists, believed that the grind-it-out British belter with the Ray Charles obsession could be huge if presented in the right context. So he wrote screaming arrangements of songs Cocker had been singing for years, and positioned the singer at the center of a constantly moving (and frequently gaudy) revue.
Bigger isn’t usually better in rock. But Mad Dogs works, in part because the ensemble pushes Cocker in ways few rock singers are ever pushed. He sings Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” as a series of boxing maneuvers, slipping his ad-libs into the (few) open spaces. He feeds off the campy vaudeville backing for the Beatles’ “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” And though he enjoys the power of Russell’s ensemble on the full-throttle rock numbers, Cocker is most persuasive when the heat isn’t full force: This steady-rolling version of “Cry Me a River” deserves a spot in the hall of fame, as does the sultry version of Russell’s “Delta Lady” that closes the program.
– Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.