This is first album from Dr Hook and it is both a showcase for them and a vehicle for songwriter Shel Silverstein.
Songwriters using band or acts to express their music better, perhaps, than they could themselves is not unusual. Jim Webb wrote albums for The Fifth Dimension, The Supremes, Glen Campbell and others. Rod McKuen for Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough. Leiber and Stoller for The Coasters, Jay and the Americans, Elvis Presley and others.
It's all about making sure that the songwriters' music and personality marry well with the band or singer.
Read my other comments for background on Dr Hook but:
Dr. Hook’s pathway to stardom was a long, strange trip. The band itself was a mixture of Southern boys and New Jersey guys. Iconic front-man Ray Sawyer, with his eye patch and mangled hat, was from Chickasaw, Alabama. After losing his right eye in a car accident in 1967 he fronted a band called The Chocolate Papers. They were the house band at Gus Stevens’ Supper Club on Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi (trivia: Jayne Mansfield played her last club date at Gus Stevens’ before perishing in an auto accident on the way to New Orleans).
The Chocolate Papers eventually folded with guitarist George Cummings making his way to New Jersey where he formed another band. Cummings invited former bandmates Ray Sawyer and keyboardist Billy Francis to join up and then added a key piece – 19-year-old Dennis Locorriere. Cummings and Sawyer were already in their 30s, ancient by rock standards, but they found a musical kindred spirit in the talented Locorriere who was 10 years their junior. Locorriere was a gifted singer and could play guitar and he and Sawyer had a natural chemistry together. http://retrorockblog.com/tag/dr-hook-and-the-medicine-show/
Dr Hook was born.
Shortly thereafter, Ron Haffkine was overseeing the musical production on the 1971 movie "Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying All Those Terrible Things About Me?", for which Shel Silverstein was writing the songs. Haffkine, without luck, was searching for the right group to do Silverstein's songs, until he received a Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show demo from the band, and loved it. Silverstein also heard the demo, went to New Jersey to hear the group in action and loved them. Two of the band’s songs were included in the movie soundtrack and though the film was only a modest success songs were enough to secure the band its first recording contract, this album.
Shel Silverstein wrote most of the material.
Shel Silverstein, was a man of many talents as a satirist, (Playboy) cartoonist, writer of children’s books and as a songwriter. He was a sharp Brill building staff songwriter with an eye for small details which gave his songs lives that people could relate to. Like a more acerbic Ray Stevens his music is humorous but without losing touch of the melody or musical hook (sic).
Dr Hook and Shel Silverstein were a perfect match. The band with their jokey, devil may care, anything goes humour where quite anarchic by mainstream standards which fit in perfectly with Silverstein's sharp humorous satire.
This isn't underground New York avant-garde but mainstream music. But it is quite twisted by mainstream standards. The band, having been a bar band, are tight but they look scrappy, and they exude chaos and down home on the porch, with a jug of whisky (or a joint or two), sing-along sessions. This fits in perfectly with the freewheeling early seventies. There was just enough country sounds in there to have them pick up on some of that market, and just enough soft rock for the mainstream market.
As an aside, the band had quite a few hits here in Australia (two #1s and another six Top 10 singles in 10 years). Their anarchic, rebellious sprit was quite appreciated in the Australia of the seventies, which was coming out of a long period of post-war conservatism. Anything went in the Australia of the seventies (just about) and the influence of Dr Hook on Australian music in attitude and humour if not music (Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Redgum etc) is, I think, under researched.
As their career progressed Dr Hook moved more to the mainstream, away from country-ish sounds (still satirical though) but, here, they still have their roots showing. And, what is surprising is the depth of their roots … rock, country, honky tonk, soft rock, ballads and a touch of folk rock.
With two lead vocalists (Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere) alternatively taking turns singing lead they could cover a range of music sounds more, than perhaps, one vocalist could. Locorriere does the ballads and soft pop whilst Sawyer does the more raucous "regional" type numbers. The rest of the band supply could vocal backup along with their fine musicianship.
All songs by Shel Silverstein unless noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Sylvia's Mother – the hit single. A sweet one and undeniably catchy.
- Marie Lavaux – a twisted swamp song like a cross between Jerry Reed and Captain Beefheart.
- Sing Me A Rainbow – another AM ballad.
- Hey, Lady Godiva – satire with horns (quite strange) and calls and asides. Like a stoned country cabaret band.
- Four Years Older Than Me – (J. David / Ron Haffkine / Dennis Locorriere / Ray Sawyer) – a slow rocker with swamp overtones.
- Kiss It Away – singer-songwriter country opera with tongue in cheek (perhaps)
- Makin' It Natural – (Jeffrey Comanor / Shel Silverstein) – A country tune with some un-country lyrics. Very funny and quite the toe tapper.
- I Call That True Love – more twisted rock comes country comes swamp.
- When She Cries – another ballad.
- Judy – another ballady type number though more gruff than usual being sung by Sawyer (I think).
- Mama, I'll Sing One Song For You – a nice straight country rock song not dissimilar from early Poco, or perhaps even The Eagles.
I've always found (the later) Dr Hook albums patchy. And, this one isn't perfect but it is very good … I think I may keep it.
1972 Sylvia's Mother The Billboard Hot 100 #5
1972 Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show The Billboard 200 45
1972 Sylvia's Mother #2
Canada – 1972 Sylvia's Mother The Billboard Hot 100 #2
Australia – 1972 Sylvia's Mother The Billboard Hot 100 #1
and live here … an amazing performance that is tight, loose and anarchic …
Sing Me A Rainbow
Hey, Lady Godiva
Makin' It Natural