Over the years I have heard folks from the UK comment about the phrase “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” I first heard the expression when Joe Cocker went on tour with his rock and roll (and blues) group, Mad Dogs and Englishmen which included many famous British rock ‘n roll artists including Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge, former members of the group Delaney and Bonnie. For a long time I was clueless as to its origins.
I found an interesting review of the album Mad Dogs and Englishmen on Amazon. I especially enjoyed this rockin’ video performance of “The Letter” by Joe Cocker backed up by the Mad Dogs. Note the cool but “savage” looking Leon Russell on the piano with his trademark long hair and top hat… Joe Cocker singing of course – hard core rock ‘n roll at its finest–60’s style!
After looking at some more videos of Joe Cocker I got curious and did some searching and found this The Tough Road Taking Jethro To Top In U.S do a find down the page for “DEPRESSED” and read a bit about their Kansas and Texas tours. One phrase I found quite interesting was “Kansas and the mid-west, like Texas which we were to visit later, are somewhat depressed areas for rock, being anything up to a year behind New York and the West Coast…So it was that three of Britain’s top groups — Jehro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Joe Cocker — turned up at the unfriendly Soldiers And Sailors Auditorium in miserable Kansas in an effort to open up new territory for rock…In the auditorium burly cops, with guns in hip holsters, were stationed at various points in the hall — a sight that was later to become familiar in Texas. In both States there was a noticeable feeling of hostility in the air…”
There were a lot of traveling gigs going on from ’69 into the early ’70’s. This autographed handbill from December 1969, describes a concert called “The Pride Of England” where Houstonians were treated to Jethro Tull, Joe Cocker And Fleetwood Mac–All At The Same Show! I was at this Houston concert, among many, during the time I lived there…
So where did the phrase “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” come from? I later found out that the ’60’s musical group took their name from a poem and song written by Noel Coward who is “an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, (and) flamboyance…”
I found out some background on the the original Mad Dogs and Englishmen which states it was a “song written by Noël Coward and first performed in 1931.”
I then found another page with the full lyrics to the tune:
In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It’s one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
its ultry-violet ray —
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they’re obviously, absolutely nuts
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta,
In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
which the Britishers won’t wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
no further work is done –
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
It’s such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
That though the British are effete,
they’re quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides, every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will
impale his solar topee on a tree.
It seems such a shame that when the English claim the earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth –
Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o’clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen, go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this stupid habit.
In Hong Kong, they strike a gong, and fire off a noonday gun.
To reprimand each inmate, who’s in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie down and snooze, for there’s nothing else to do.
In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.–