[15 October 2007]
When I was a kid, Dad got me hooked on Dr. Hook. It was the band’s humor that initially took me in. Additionally, the ringing endorsement of the band by my father, a former studio and road musician in the early ‘60s and late ‘70s, underscored the value of the honesty and legitimacy in the music.
Dr. Hook (and the Medicine Show, until they later shortened up the band’s moniker) told it like it was. There was no pretense of eloquence regarding sexual subversion and deviancy à la the Velvet Underground’s beautifully perverse “Venus In Furs”. Welded together with a sense of authenticity of the good times on the road, bawdy humor, and sexual innuendo risqué even by swingin’ ‘70s standards, Dr. Hook was the antidote to artsy by way of county-fried funk, raunchy rock, and good natured, self-deprecating sleaze.
In the days before digital downloads made it possible to track any given song in a matter of seconds, there were cassette tapes. Having heard Dad wax poetically about such Dr. Hook works as “Penicillin Penny”, I figured it was my duty as a good kid to procure a cassette of these all-but forgotten gems for my father out of the $4.95 bin.
Via the sound stylings of Dr. Hook, Dad would regale me with tales on par with Arthurian legend through the unrequited love story of “Roland the Roadie and Gertrude the Groupie”, with Ray Sawyer, Dennis Corrierre, and company yarn-weaving that while “Some folks love ham hocks / And some folks love pork chops / And some folks love vegetable soup / But Roland the Roadie / Loved Getrude the Groupie / But Gertrude the Groupie loves groups”.
Having read the works of Shel Silverstein in grade school, I was too young to make the connection that the man who wrote Where the Sidewalk Ends penned many of Dr. Hook’s lewd and limericky songs; this was the Dr. Hook I grew up knowing and loving. While possessed of a slightly sophomoric sheen at times, Dr. Hook were not confined to being merely shallow, as their material ran the gamut of emotions. The group was fortunate enough to have two lead singers whose voices could accurately help paint a verbal picture depending on what the song called for. Dennis Locorriere sang the bulk of the material requiring more vocal range than the high-profile, eye-patch wearing Ray Sawyer (who lost his eye in a 1967 car crash that nearly cost him his life) whose Average Joe-style brought to fruition more of the band’s humor-driven songs.
On this latest “best of” compilation, Greatest Hooks doesn’t really represent the fun and funny aspects of Dr. Hook’s songs, the material that set them apart from either the pseudo-Southern rock of the ‘70s or the decade’s numerous disco pushers.
Conspicuous by their absence are the aforementioned “Roland the Roadie” and “Penicillin Penny” as well as other Dr. Hook fan-favorites, “Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball”, “Get My Rocks Off”, and the doober-anthem, “I Got Stoned and I Missed It”. In their stead are the mediocre “All the Time In the World” and “Better Love Next Time”, sounding like watered-down Seals and Crofts and BeeGees throwaways, respectively. That’s not to say that Dr. Hook’s forays into disco were bad. “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” bounces across the floor, while the vaguely voyeuristic “Sexy Eyes” is at home with the Hustle.
Fortunately, there is still ample representation of the fare Dr. Hook was known for. The band’s ubiquitous “Cover of the Rolling Stone”, a comedic account of the glorious vices that accompany stardom, while unmistakably ‘70s in its blend of blues, country, and rock, the track still holds up nearly 40 years later, aging better than Dr. Hook’s dalliances with disco. In the same vein, “The Millionaire” is filled with gems of wisdom, calling out truly the greatest rock n’ roll swindle of all, very nearly the founding factor of rock n’ roll itself: A bunch of ugly guys have copious amounts of ass tossed their way thanks to a rush of fame and readily available cash in abundance. Yet again, Dr. Hook calls ‘em like they sees ‘em.
While not in the same league as “Cover of the Rolling Stone” or “The Millionaire”, the disco-flavored “Girls Can Get It” is built around another universal truth of human sexuality: it’s easier for a woman to get laid than a man, blaring out that, “Girls can get it any time they want / Girls can get it where a man often won’t / Everybody’s always after some lovin’ now and then / A woman gets it faster than any man can”
Not limited to novelty-style songs, the band pulled out some genuinely emotional tunes in their early years. “Sylvia’s Mother”, the band’s first big hit, is an uncomfortably tearful, Jim Croce-esque phone conversation with an ex-girlfriend’s mother during an attempt to either rekindle the relationship or obtain closure. An odd undercurrent of humor runs through the track with the telephone operator requesting an additional 40 cents for another three minutes of painful revelations. A lone violin stirs in the background adding to the weepy drama that veers towards balladeer territory, exalting the common man to tragic hero status while still not sitting above being the butt of a cosmic joke.
Sad, countrified-soul-funk ensues again with “A Couple More Years”, the wistful chronicling of a May-December romance and the cyclical nature of this type of relationship, culminating with the aspiring-cougar eventually moving on when “those young eagles call”. From unconventional romance to more traditional ballads, their hit cover of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen” is present and accounted for, as is the sweet “Years From Now”, featuring Dennis Locorriere sounding eerily like Lionel Richie on one of his most heartfelt ballads. Locorriere gets an opportunity to strut his singing stuff on the track, showcasing his fairly impressive chops, well-suited to ballads.
Rounding out the package is the Viagra-fest of “A Little Bit More”, and helpings of the band’s fascination with the lower half of the body with up-tempo tracks like “You Make My Pants Wanna Get Up and Dance” and “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk” the latter, significantly more guitar oriented.
The disc’s title Greatest Hooks does offer a lot of chart-toppers and chart-placers. Greatest Hooks is a completely objective term however, and could have allowed for more of the definitive style of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show that gave the group a sense of identity in the music world more than just playing it safe. While some of the songs included on the disc were statistically Billboard 100 hits, statistics are boring and a cop-out. Many of the more disco-flavored hits included show their age. Considering their cult status as a band, while not a bad introduction to the zany world of the Medicine Show, the legend of Dr. Hook would have been better served by including a few of their more cult-classic tunes on this compilation.