My Playlist: Dr. Feelgood

Shooting some rock & roll in your arm

Leave a late show
Still feel alive
Want a place to go
Round about five
Down to the doctors
Down to the doctors
Come on down to the doctors
Make you feel good all night

Including Dr. Feelgood in my latest installment of The Sunday Six reminded me how much I dig the British pub blues rockers. They’re a great illustration that music doesn’t have to be complex to be fun. Anyway, this is what triggered the idea to put together this post and playlist.

Before we come down to the doctor’s surgery for a shot of R&B, here’s a bit of background on the band. Dr. Feelgood were formed in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals). Soon John Martin (drums) joined them to complete the initial lineup. The group took their name from Dr. Feel-Good, a 1962 single by American blues artist Willie Perryman, which he recorded as Dr. Feelgood & The Interns.

Dr. Feelgood in 1976 (from left): Wilko Johnson, John “The Big Figure” Martin, John B Sparks and Lee Brilleaux

Everybody needs a shot of r ‘n’ b
So come on down to my surgery
Down to the doctors
Down to the doctors
Come on down to the doctors
Make you feel good all night

By late 1973, Dr. Feelgood had established a reputation for their driving R&B on the growing pub rock scene in London. During the second half of 1974, they recorded their debut album Down by the Jetty, which came out in January 1975. The record missed the charts in the UK but reached no. 6 in Finland. Only nine months later, they issued their sophomore album Malpractice, which marked their breakthrough in the UK, climbing to no. 17 in the charts.

In April 1977 during the recording sessions for Dr. Feelgood’s third album Sneakin’ Suspicion Wilko Johnson left over disagreements over which tracks to include on the record. Egos in rock! Given Johnson’s central role up to that point, this almost led to the group’s breakup. Essentially, Brilleaux took over and Johnson was replaced by Gypie Mayo, who then was still a relatively unknown guitarist. In 1996, he would become a member of the reformed Yardbirds and play with them until 2004.

Eight bars on piano
Down to the doctors
Down to the doctors
Come on down to the doctors
Make you feel good all night

Dr. Feelgood today (from left): Gordon Russell (guitar), Robert Kane (vocals, harmonica), Kevin Morris (drums) and Phil Mitchell (bass)

By 1984, Brilleaux was Dr. Feelgood’s only original member. At that time, the remaining lineup included Gordon Russell (lead guitar, backing vocals), Phil H. Mitchell (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Buzz Barwell (drums). Brilleaux remained part of the group until his death from lymphoma at age 41 in April 1994. Russell and Mitchell still are with Dr. Feelgood to this day. The other current members are Robert Kane (lead vocals, harmonica) and Kevin Morris (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Over their 50-year-plus career, Dr. Feelgood have released 17 studio albums, which appeared between 1975 and 2006. Their catalog also includes numerous compilation and live albums, four box sets and three video albums. Dr. Feelgood’s heyday was the mid to late ’70s, which is the main focus of this post, though the Spotify playlist at the end also features tunes from the band’s later years.

Come here baby
Ain’t gonna do you no harm
I just want to shoot
Some rock ‘n’ roll in your arm
Down to the doctors
Down to the doctors
Come on down to the doctors
Make you feel good all night

Roxette (Down by the Jetty, Jan 1975)

Time to get a shot of rock & roll from the doctor to make us feel good. Since I picked the neat opener She Does It Right in my aforementioned Sunday Six installment, I decided to highlight Roxette, another great tune written by Wilko Johnson. The tune also appeared separately in November 1974 as the band’s second single.

Back in the Night (Malpractice, Oct 1975)

Back in the Night, another tune penned by Johnson, is from Dr. Feedgood’s sophomore album Malpractice. The song also became the band’s fourth single. Like the previous three singles, it missed the charts. Luckily, the album fared much better, becoming the group’s first to chart in the U.K., reaching a respectable no. 17, and matching the performance of their debut release in Finland with another no. 6 there.

Hey Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut (Sneakin’ Suspicion, May 1977)

Apart from originals, Dr. Feelgood have recorded numerous covers. Here’s one of them, Hey Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut, which they included on their third studio album Sneakin’ Suspicion. The last record with Johnson became the band’s highest-charting studio album in the UK, peaking at no. 10 there. Dr. Feelgood’s most successful release was Stupidity, their first live record that came out in September 1976. It topped the UK charts, climbed to no. 7 in Finland and reached no. 29 in Spain. Hey Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut was written by Ellas McDaniel, the man who professionally was known as Bo Diddley. He first released it as a single in August 1964.

She’s a Wind Up (Be Seeing You, Sep 1977)

Following Wilko Johnson’s departure, Lee Brilleaux and Dr. Feelgood’s new guitarist Gypie Mayo became the main writers of the band’s original tunes. She’s a Wind Up is a great song that in addition to Brilleaux and Mayo is also credited to the group’s two other members, bassist John B. Sparks and drummer John Martin. Included on Dr. Feelgood’s fourth studio album Be Seeing You, which was produced by Nick Lowe, She’s a Wind Up also became the group’s highest-charting UK single at the time, reaching no. 34.

Down at the Doctor’s (Private Practice, Oct 1978)

One of my favorite Dr. Feelgood tunes is Down at the Doctor’s, off their fifth studio album Private Practice. Also released separately as a single, the tune was penned by English guitarist and songwriter Mickey Jupp. If you’ve been a patient of the doctor, you’ve probably noticed the lyrics at the beginning of the post and interspersed through the upfront section, which are from that song. Oh, and in case you’ve been wondering what the hell happened to the eight bars of piano, here’s what Songfacts has to say about that: At the end of the guitar solo, we hear Lee Brilleaux growl, “eight bars of piano,” which was presumably an instruction to the engineer to dub in another instrument at some point in the future. We never did get to hear the piano and Lee’s request was never wiped from the version commercially.

Milk and Alcohol (Private Practice)

The aforementioned Private Practice album is best known for the song that initially brought Dr. Feelgood on my radar screen in the late ’70s: Milk and Alcohol. Co-written by Nick Lowe and Gypie Mayo, it became the band’s biggest hit single, climbing to no. 9 in the UK. The song did best in the Irish singles charts where it surged to no. 4. It also charted in Germany, reaching no. 30 there. Still love that tune – simple, but it just rocks!

The following Spotify playlist includes the above tunes, as well as additional songs from select Dr. Feelgood albums that appeared after Private Practice. Yes, it may be fairly simple stuff. You may also call it repetitive. But if you’re like me and don’t care, join me and come on down to the doctor’s to make you feel good!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Dr. Feelgood website; YouTube; Spotify

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On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 30

Before this year and decade are finally over, I thought why not throw in another installment of this recurring feature. For first-time visitors, the idea of these posts is simple: Look what happened on a specific date in rock throughout the decades. Admittedly, it’s a rather arbitrary way to cover music history. Moreover, these posts reflect events I find interesting and are not supposed to be comprehensive summaries. Usually, the selections are heavily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which generally are my favorite music decades. This time, I’m also throwing in two birthdays. With that being said, let’s get to it!

1928: Ellas McDaniel (born Ellas Otha Bates), the American artist who became known as Bo Diddley, was born in the tiny city of McComb, Miss. When he was six years old, the McDaniel family who had adopted him from his mother, moved to Chicago, where the boy studied the trombone and the violin before taking up the guitar. Initially, he played on street corners with friends. By 1951, he had secured a regular gig at Chicago South Side’s 708 Club. In April 1955, then already known as Bo Diddley, he released his namesake tune featuring his signature Bo Diddley beat. Diddley, who passed away on June 2, 2008, influenced many artists, such as early rock & rollers Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, as well as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Here’s Bo Diddley, his only tune to top the Billboard Hot R&B chart.

1947: Jeffrey (Jeff) Lynne was born in the Birmingham suburb of Erdington, England. Jeff got his first (acoustic) guitar as a child from his father Philip Lynne. In 1963, he formed his first band, The Rockin’ Hellcats – that’s when bands still had fun names! Three years later, Jeff joined Birmingham rock group The Idle Race as lead guitarist, keyboarder and vocalist, and played on their first two albums. While the band developed a cult following, it did not achieve commercial success. In 1970, Lynne’s friend Roy Wood invited him to join The Move, the band that eventually morphed into Electric Light Orchestra. After a successful run that lasted 11 albums and 15 years, ELO disbanded in 1986. In 2000, Lynne revived ELO, but until 2013, they mostly released re-issues and played occasional mini-reunions. Since 2014, the band essentially has been a Jeff Lynne project billed as Jeff Lynne’s ELO and released two albums. Lynne also was a co-founder of Traveling Wilburys. In addition to producing for “his” bands, Lynne produced for many other artists, such as Dave Edmunds, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. Here’s Livin’ Thing from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record, released in July 1976. Like most ELO tunes, the song was written by Lynne who turned 72 years today. Happy birthday!

1967: For the 15th time, The Beatles stood at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, this time with Hello, Goodbye. Written by Paul McCartney, the tune was released as a non-album single in November 1967, backed by I’m The Walrus. According to Songfacts, John Lennon wasn’t fond of the tune, calling it “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions.” Apparently, he was also mad that his song I’m The Walrus was relegated to the B-side. While Hello, Goodbye has nice harmony singing and a cool bassline, I have to say I’m with Lennon here. The lyrics are silly and the much stronger I’m The Walrus would have deserved to be an A-side release.

1973: Jim Croce topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Time In A Bottle, his second and last no. 1 hit. Sadly, he didn’t get a chance to witness this milestone. On September 20, 1973, Croce was killed in a plane crash during a tour while taking off from Natchitoches, La.  He was en route to Sherman, Texas for his next scheduled gig at Austin College. All of the other five people who were on board of the chartered Beechcraft E18S died as well. Time In A Bottle was the third single off Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which had come out in April 1972. The poetic love song is a timeless gem!

1974: Bob Dylan recorded the take of Tangled Up In Blue that ended up on his 1975 album Blood On The Tracks while visiting his brother David for the holidays in Minnesota. Written in the summer of 1974, the tune deals with personal matters Dylan was going through at the time, including his failing marriage to his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky). Dylan had first recorded the song with producer Phil Ramone in New York but not released it. During the session that generated the album version, Dylan asked Kevin Odegard, a local singer and guitarist who had been brought in to support the recording, what he thought about the song. Odegard suggested changing the key from G and A. Dylan gave it a try and apparently was satisfied with the outcome. Odegard never received any credit on the record but graciously said the experience was instrumental in launching his own successful music career.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; This Day In Rock; YouTube