CULT CLASSIC: PAVLOV’S DOG-PAMPERED MENIAL.
Cult Classic: Pavlov’s Dog-Pampered Menial.
In the history of progressive rock, Pavlov’s Dog’s 1975 debut album Pampered Menial is regarded as a genre classic. That was despite the album’s commercial failure. It was released initially by ABC-Dunhill. The initial commercial failure was totally unexpected as the label had given Pavlov’s Dog a large advance which was thought to be in the region of $650,000. For everyone concerned this wasn’t just disappointing, it was a disaster.
Pavlov’s Dog was a big signing for ABC-Dunhill who thought that the group’s debut album Pampered Menial was going to be a commercial success. They were regarded as rising stars of the progressive rock scene, and had come a long way in just three years.
The Pavlov’s Dog story began in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1972, but how the band came into being is disputed. Mike Safron claims that he and Siegfried Carver founded the band. However, the other version of the story is that after the demise of a local covers band High On A Small Hill, which featured vocalist and guitarist David Surkamp and bassist Rick Stockton, Pavlov’s Dog was formed. By 1973, they were joined by drummer and percussionist Mike Safron, guitarist Steve Levin, keyboardist David Hamilton and flautist Doug Rayburn who also played mellotron. This was the first lineup of the Pavlov’s Dog.
Within a year, there was a change in the group’s lineup when Steve Levin left and was replaced by lead guitarist Steve Scorfina, who previously, was a member of REO Speedwagon. This new lineup headed to a studio in Pekin, Illinois.
That was where Pavlov’s Dog recorded a number of songs that they had written. When they listened to them, it wasn’t a case of the tracks having potential, the band felt they were good. So did executives at ABC-Dunhill Records.
When they heard the recordings, they wanted to sign Pavlov’s Dog and were willing to pay a hefty price. This was thought to be around $650, 000 a not inconsiderable amount of money in the mid-seventies. It was no surprise when Pavlov’s Dog signed on the dotted line.
Like many groups who are signed by a label, they had already written what they thought would be part of their debut album. However, despite having liked the songs Pavlov’s Dog had already recorded only some of them made it onto the album.
It featured nine songs, including Julia, Fast Gun, Theme From Subway Sue, Episode and Of Once and Future Kings which were penned by David Surkamp who cowrote Late November with Steve Scorfina. He also contributed Natchez Trace and Mike Safron penned Song Dance and Siegfried Carver wrote Preludin. These nine songs were produced by Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman who had worked with Blue Oyster Cult. When the album was completed, the release was scheduled for the spring of 1975.
Pavlov’s Dog’s much-anticipated debut album Pampered Menial was released on April the ‘4th’ 1975, it featured that distinctive cover, which featured engravings by Sir Edwin Landseer. By then, he had been dead for almost one hundred years and a new generation were discovering his work.
Mostly, critics were won over by Pampered Menial and it received plaudits and praise. Some critics disliked the band, and one reason was David Surkamp’s voice. It seemed to divide the opinion of critics. Despite this, executives at ABC-Dunhill thought they had a successful album on their hands.
When Pampered Menial was released it failed to even trouble the charts. To make matters worse, Pampered Menial Siegfried Carver left the band just after the release of the album. What happened next was unusual.
In mid-June 1975, Pampered Menial was reissued by Columbia with a slightly different sleeve. The album entered the lower reaches of the charts, and stalled at a lowly 181 in the US Billboard 200. Pampered Menial wasn’t the commercial success that executives hoped although Julia gave the group a minor hit in Australia when it reached seventy-nine.
Forty-six years after Pampered Menial’s release in 1975 and the album is regarded as a cult classic. It finds Pavlov’s Dog fusing elements of progressive rock, hard rock and art rock. They were a tight, talented and versatile band and Pampered Menial is proof of it. Each of the mucicians were master craftsmen and David Surkamp’s inimitable vocal was unlike the majority of progressive rock vocalists. He and the rest of Pavlov’s Dog showcase their considerable talents on Pampered Menial.
Seamlessly, Pavlov’s Dog switch between a variety of songs on Pampered Menial. They open the album with the instrumental Julia, which gave them a minor hit single in Australia. It gives way to the beautiful, emotive sounding instrumental Late November and then the hard rocking Song Dance. Fast Gun features an impassioned vocal from David Surkamp as the rest of the band combine to create one of the finest arrangements on the album. Then Natchez Trace which closes the first side, is a beautiful, melodic and sometimes haunting and dramatic song.
Opening side two is Theme From Subway Sue where blasting guitars give way to a piano and David Surkamp’s trademark vocal. It’s a mixture of power, passion and emotion on this anthemic track. The quality continues on Episode which gradually reveals its secrets and showcases Pavlov’s Dog’s considerable talents and another highlights of the album. Preludin is a stunning progressive rock instrumental and one of the album closer Of Once And Future Kings is one of the most ambitious tracks on Pampered Menial.
Although Pampered Menial wasn’t a commercial success upon its release in 1975, the album eventually started to find the wider audience it deserved. Gradually, fans of progressive rock discovered the delights of the album that should’ve launched Pavlov’s Dog’s career. Nowadays, this once lost album is regarded as a genre classic and in retrospective reviews is getting the critical acclaim it deserves.
No wonder, Pavlov’s Dog were like musical master craftsmen on their debut album Pampered Menial. The members of Pavlov’s Dog successfully combined an esoteric mixture of instruments to create a carefully crafted cult classic that forty-six years after its release, is best described as an ambitious and timeless progressive rock opus.
Cult Classic: Pavlov’s Dog-Pampered Menial.