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Pavlov’s Dog: Pampered Menial (1975)

This out of the way, I was born in the 1970s, so I was obviously way too young to have participated in the 1970s, so I’ll tell you how I came about becoming aware of Pavlov’s Dog. Back in 1994, when I was 21, I ran into someone into music and he mentioned me this group called Pavlov’s Dog, and he stated they have a rather ridiculous-sounding singer. Well, I found some further information, the group hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, and they released two albums during their lifetime, Pampered Menial, and their followup, At the Sound of the Bell (1976), which none other than Bill Bruford made an appearance on (a third album, from 1977, did not surface until much more recently).

In 1975, the band released their debut, Pampered Menial, on ABC Records, but for some reason, their relations with ABC didn’t do so good, so they quickly moved to Columbia, and had that album reissued on that label. If you collect LPs, it’s real easy to tell the ABC from the Columbia versions (other than examining the label), while both featuring the same basic artwork, the Columbia cover is better, doesn’t have this frame, and the gatefold is different, where it showed members of the band holding dogs, which the original ABC version did not. I am really convinced that Pampered Menial is about the only album I can think of that got quickly reissued on another label while the band was still alive and kicking!

First of all, you can’t talk about Pavlov’s Dog without bringing up their singer David Surkamp! He’s often compared to Geddy Lee, also seen him described as Marty Balin on helium, but I describe him as like Geddy Lee on helium with a Tiny Tim-like vibrato, which is what you get here! Anyway, the band went to New York to record Pampered Menial, with some production help by none other than Sandy Pearlman, who was a member of Blue Öyster Cult (who themselves were still an up and coming hard rock/heavy metal band as their big breakthrough hit, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was still a year away)! Musically, they really aren’t too far off what British prog rock bands were doing a few years before: not-so-complex song-based prog (so don’t expect Gentle Giant with Pavlov’s Dog), in fact, thanks to the Mellotron ever present on some of the cuts, I can’t help but be reminded a bit of the Moody Blues, especially the opening cut, “Julia”, which is a ballad, and also a fan favorite. Violin and flute are other instruments used besides the usual rock guitar (guitars, bass, drums, Mini Moog synth). “Late November” is a more harder-edge prog song, but the next three are more in hard rock territory with “Song Dance”, “Fast Gun” and “Natchez Trace”. “Episode” is more or less back in ballad territory, while “Of Once and Future Kings” shows the band at their more complex side (but then again, don’t expect Gentle Giant here).

I really have to say Pavlov’s Dog really isn’t for everyone. David Surkamp’s singing will throw many off, some might laugh at him, some might find him unbearable, and others have no problem with it. You really can’t get around that. Really, you need to listen before you buy. But regardless of the singer, there is some excellent music to be found here.
– David Surkamp: lead vocals, guitar
– David Hamilton: keyboards
– Doug Rayburn: Mellotron, flute
– Mike Safron: drums, percussion
– Rick Stockton: bass
– Siegfried Carver: violin, vitar, viola
– Steve Scorfina: lead guitar

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