Doctors Of Madness - Perfect Past: The Complete Doctors Of Madness

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2017-05-08

Nowadays, we know that “Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” and, oh yes, we also know some of that music back in the 70’s was pretty darn great. I read recently that the much disparaged Mott the Hoople album Mad Shadows has now been given the five-star classic treatment. What? It took almost fifty years to figure out what we fans knew way back then. Sure, the album is a schizophrenic blend of wild manic rock juxtaposed with quiet personal introspective songs; and sure, there is also a lovable squeaky drum pedal in Buffin’s kit. But it was brilliant. Of course, it had very little to do with commercial pop music. It was way beyond that. And it is still brilliant today.

And that brings us to The Doctors of Madness and their box set, Perfect Past. What? It took almost forty years…yeah, yeah, yeah…but to be fair, if you are hoping for that squeaky drum pedal, you will be sadly disappointed. However, if you are looking for manic, introspective, weird, progressive, glam(orous), punkish, intense music; and yes, a record with a schizophrenic blend of wild frenzied rock juxtaposed with quiet reflection on life, well, you will not be disappointed at all.

And The Velvet Underground figure into all of this music, too.

Think about the times. I remember being in the HMV Shop on Oxford Street in 1976. The wall was plastered with sleeves of Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’s Reach for the Sky, which I dutifully purchased. It’s a nice record, but it never set anything on fire. At the time, I was still angry about Pink Floyd’s attempt a year or two earlier to record an album using rubber bands and other household objects. What was that?  John Miles’ Rebel was a major bust for me. My beloved Mott the Hoople had morphed into just plain Mott. Prog wasn’t even rock any more. Jon Anderson of Yes fame had Olias of Sunhillow which had a great cover, but what was that concept story all about?  Apparently, a guy named Olias builds the “Moonglider” and some dude named Qoquaq convinces a bunch of aliens to move to another planet. Yeah, I was there buying records at the time, and I could go on and on…

Two years later, I would take one look at ELP’s Love Beach, actually buy a copy of Vangelis’ Beaubourg, listen to its electronic mish-mash, pretty much give up on the boring old farts, and thank ground control that I could still cling to the life raft music of The Doctors of Madness. (Well, I had John Martyn, City Boy, and Horslips from the old guard, but that’s another story!)

To the uninitiated, the good Doctors’ music oscillates between extreme darn close to punk rock that is propelled by the maniacal frenzy of Urban Blitz’s violin and intense introspection of Richard Strange’s slow stuff. As a reference (and I assume anybody reading this isn’t exactly hoping to complete a Bay City Rollers collection), this music has the same schizoid appeal as the aformentioned Mott the Hoople album Mad Shadows in which the blistering “Thunderbuck Ram” can co-exist with Hunter’s psychic revelation of “When My Mind’s Gone.” This is deeply grooved stuff. A fair comparison might also be Van der Graaf Generator’s blend of absolute chaos and melodic moments of Peter Hammill’s quiet beauty. I suppose, given the time frame, this music could be linked to Cockney Rebel. I mean, both bands wore the make-up that was the flavor of the day, but Steve Harley & Co’s music was still in the realm of pop, and this stuff is way beyond that commercial interest. The first album, Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms, is quite expansive: The split personality of “Waiting” and “Afterglow” sets the template. But, really, the fifteen minute plus “Mainlines” is the star of the show. The start-stop drama does recall the epic quality of Mott’s “Half Moon Bay.” Both bands simply take no quarter. The second record, Figments of Emancipation, includes the Bowiesque (and very fine Bowiesque at that!) “Suicide City.” The Song “Doctors of Madness” is proto punk rock, and that “urban decay” tone permeates Richard Strange’s lyrics. The final album, Sons of Survival, is an all out assault with more of “the hour of not quite” punk rock (minus the make-up which was no longer the flavor of the day) that still makes room for the lovely “Kiss Goodbye to Tomorrow.” Sorry about the second Buffalo Springfield reference.

And that first Ultravox! album surely sounds indebted to this music.

As a caveat, I suppose it should be noted (again for the uninitiated) that The Sex Pistols opened for the Doctors. Other icons like The Damned, The Skids, Penetration, The Adverts, and (the great) Julian Cope were fans.

Now, to the initiated… well, I’m going to cheat because I was lucky enough to discuss this new box with Richard Strange. And he should know. There are “brand new liner notes, bonus tracks, rehearsal tracks, AND it has been beautifully remastered.” He’s been involved “from day one” and “this release is faithful to the original concept of the albums.”

So this is the real deal.

Now, I’m not usually enamored with bonus tracks as they can be seen as a ploy to sell yet another copy of a remastered, remixed, 5.1. DVD included, Steven Wilson approved, just in time for Christmas release. But this is different. For one thing, Christmas is a long way off. And for another thing, The Doctors of Madness, at least for a few, are more than just a rock band.  All the demos welcome the listener into the heart of the group. It’s interesting to hear a nascent take of the song “Doctors of Madness” from their first album session which is, perhaps, a bit more manic than the official release on the second record. “We Don’t Give Back” and “Frustration” are, I believe, unreleased songs. I really like the acoustic demo of “Triple Vision.” The same is true for their final album Sons of Survival that includes several unreleased songs, including “Don’t Panic England” with Dave Vanian of The Damned.  There’s an odd rehearsal of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” that reveals yet another influence. Let’s just say that there’s a lot here for the true fan that has passed the initiation into the madness of this particular doctor’s world. Personally, I’m just happy to have all three albums in one package.

These albums weren’t for everyone way back then, and that, sadly, is probably true for even fewer people today. My friend, Kilda Defnut, who knows more about the European explorers than anyone else I know, is quick to point out that Hernando de Soto never really discovered the Mississippi River. She says that it was already there. Sure. But Kilda’s certain to point out, “At least he was looking for something.” She says that it’s the same for all the scientists searching for new planets. They only find what is already out there. But, she always emphasizes, at least they are looking for something. Music is just like that. Good bands are always looking for something new. The Doctors of Madness did that in 1976, and in a weird way, this Perfect Past box set manages to do the very same thing today.

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