Shel Silverstein was a Renaissance man like no other before or after him. Who else can say they wrote a Top 10 song for Johnny Cash (A Boy Named Sue), wrote dozens of well-known Children’s books (The Giving Tree, Who Wants A Cheap Rhinoceros) and was an illustrator for Playboy magazine. But in 1970, Shel finally met his muse when he enlisted the group, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show to sing the songs he had written for the movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. They shared a good mix of goofy humor and an anything-goes vibe, tempered with some heartfelt drama that was perfect for Shel’s songs. The soundtrack helped Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show get a contract with Columbia Records and Shel wrote all but one song on their 1971 debut.
Sylvia’s Mother entered the Hot 100 in April of 1972 all at the bottom at #100 and plead its way to #5. I’m sure audiences were plenty confused when at first hearing this overly dramatic country-tinged ballad to then see the band as a bunch of unwashed hippie freaks. Of course Sylvia dumped you, you smell. Get a job, sir! And which was Dr. Hook anyway…must be the guy with the eye patch, right? Actually there was no Dr. Hook. They made the name up on the spot hours before they got a gig. The man many though was Dr. Hook was Ray Sawyer, who lost an eye in a car accident years before and was relegated to dressing up as a pirate every Halloween. I’m not exactly sure what he even did in the band. The man who sang all the songs was Dennis Locorriere. He sounds like an old man, even at 22.
Now to the song: the boyfriend-dumping Sylvia, the hand-wringing boyfriend and the mom caught in between, Mrs. Avery. Poor dude is trying to get a hold of Sylvia by phone to find out why he got he dissed and Mrs. Avery puts the kaibash on that. Sorry she’s moving on, got a new guy and their getting married. Wow that was cold, Mrs. Avery. And damn that was fast Sylvia! And the guy can’t even have a normal conversation because the operator keeps asking for an additional .40 for the next 3 minutes.
This is where I need to pause. First, dude, why are you on a pay phone? Why can’t you call from your home phone? Do you not have one? Did Ma Bell cut you off? Maybe Sylvia wants a guy who can pay his bills. And second….40 cents for 3 minutes? Next time you complain about your cell phone bill, ask yourself when have I ever paid .13/minute. My unlimited plan is way less than that and no one bugs me every 3 minutes for more money. They just wait to bug me at the end of the month.
Now this dude is so wrapped up in himself and his misery, he doesn’t even catch on that Mrs. Avery is in fact trying to help him. She doesn’t want Sylvia to know this so she drops some clues into the conversation, like she’s taking the 9:00 train to Galveston. Dude hang up the phone and meet her at the station. But no, Mr. Thick-Head doesn’t get the message and keeps whining and crying on the phone to Mrs. Avery for the next….three….minutes…..pleeeeeease, knock it off. Hang up and pay your phone bill!