Tuesday, 7 June 2011

We sing about beauty and we sing about truth at ten thousand dollars a show

Songs Everyone Should Know

“The Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show (1973)

Whenever I hear Terry Jacks “Seasons in Sun” or “Cover of the Rolling Stone”, I always think of my friend Brad, who died of a brain tumor when we were 15 years old. He liked Dr. Hook and liked to sing this song.

Brad played guitar a bit and tried to show me, but I really did not have the patience for it yet, (although I would later, and his influence was definitely at work there). He liked country-influenced music mostly, like Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLachlan, the Eagles, and Stompin’ Tom Connors. He was the one that decided that faded jean jackets looked better and that the way we would ‘fade them’ was to put our jackets in a big mud puddle in the alley and ride our motorcycles over them till they were ‘good’. It actually worked, once your disgusted Mom washed them; well except for a couple of crooked buttons.

I helped Brad with his math as he just did not get it, and played him Ann and Nancy Wilson’s first ‘Heart’ album “Dreamboat Annie”, which he said he liked. I remember him singing “Basketball Jones” which was  this funky weird little parody  which I had no idea of where he got it (from “Fat Albert” maybe?) He was sort of double-jointed and could put his feet backwards and walk that way – sometimes singing “Basketball Jones”...anyway...miss ya Brad.

Ray Sawyer is often considered to be the front-man of Dr. Hook because of the eye patch he wears after a car accident he was involved in. In 1967 he just about died. Everyone thinks he is “Dr. Hook”. I remember one of my friends telling me, “I got to shake the Hooks hand!”

Three friends, Ray Sawyer, George Cummings and Billy Francis, had a band that they played in up and down the east coast of the U.S., finally more or less settling in New Jersey. So the story goes, a club owner asked them what the name of the band was so he could put it on the poster. Cummings made him a sign that said “Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for your Soul”.

Poet and songwriter Shel Silverton had heard a demo tape they had sent in, now having added Dennis Locomiere as lead vocalist.  In 1971, as a result they were seen playing in the modestly successful film “Who is Harry Kellerman, and Why is he Saying Those Terrible Things About Me”, directed by Herb Gardner.

This got the band a recording contract and their self-titled first album contained the hit “Sylvia’s Mother”, which in 1972 went to #5 on Billboard, but went to #2 in the U.K. They were on the map. By the way, the song, written by Shel Silverton was about his ex-girlfriend who he was in love with. Supposedly he called Sylvia Pandolfi (not Avery like the song) up when she was getting ready for her wedding and her mother, Louisa Pandolfi tried to convince Shel that it was over.

Their second album titled, “Sloppy Seconds”, contained the song “The Cover of the Rolling Stone”, which actually did get the band on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, albeit in caricature form. People had sort of figured out what this irreverent band was all about. The BBC refused to play the song as they thought it was advertising for a commercial publication. A quick rush to rerecord it resulted in it being released as “The Cover of the Radio Times”, a weekly television and radio guide in the U.K..

Dr. Hook’s (which it was now shortened to) next album covered Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen”. This was a great cover, and actually what got me interested in Sam Cooke’s music. I remember when I bought the 45 at Woolco, the cashier when ringing it through said “I love this song – it’s an old Sam Cooke song you know?”

Dr. Hook also had radio-friendly ‘soft’ hits with “A Little Bit More”, “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman”, and “Sexy Eyes”, all of which seemed like a bit of a commercial sell-out to me and I lost interest in this band, who broke up not long after.

I will never forget Brad and Glen spontaneously breaking into “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” though – classic.

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