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Great Moustaches in Rock: Dr Hook

August 21st, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments



Dr Hook once punned with prurient poise: “When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, it’s hard”. It is difficult to imagine that said beautiful woman would find it easy to relieve that rigidity when confronted with the explosion of ill-advised whiskers which served to detract from the occasional eyepatch and a calvary of tonsorial catastrophes. I suspect that even the promise of pants that get up and dance wouldn’t do the trick (or would it? Perhaps this blog’s four female readers can enlighten us).

The gala of lip thatch that was Dr Hook and the Medicine Show had a strange way with women. On Sylvia’s Mother, the Doctor (well, there is no Dr Hook, but in that agricultural festival of labiae hirsutus it might have been anyone) sobs as he begs the polite but impervious Mrs Apricot to put Sylvia on the phone. Contrary to popular interpretation, which sees Mrs Apricot as a malevolent trespasser in the affairs of the good but desolate Doctor and his oblivious subject of affection, I think she is being kind as she neglects to remind him of the restraining order which Sylvia – about to get happily married with a man whose weekly cuisine is not trapped on his upper lip – had taken out against her stalker. All ends happily, however, when we learn that the song was in fact a lampoon. Hurrah!

Indeed, our follically extravagant friends had a great line in satirical songs. Which is as much as you’d expect from a band which featured a Bill Bryson look-alike. Cover Of The Rolling Stone (or Cover Of The Radio Times, as it was retitled in Britain to ensure BBC airplay!) – written by the poet Shel Silverstein, who also wrote Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue – set the template for the quirky self-deprecation now volunteered by the likes of Ben Folds, Barenaked Ladies or Weezer, with the asides from the other ’tache merchants particularly droll (“I want to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone” sings the Doctor, “That’s a very, very good idea” a drawling sidekick commends). Of course, our bewhiskered heroes did make it to the cover of the Rolling Stone, albeit in diminished numbers. And even then, with uncharacteristic concern for public health, the magazine opted to represent Dr Hook by way of cartoon lest the sight of the real thing on newstands across the United States unleash mass gagging – and I don’t mean humour breaking out on the streets of America.

Apart from a commentary on rock ‘n roll’s hedonism, the whimsical conceit of the song was that Dr Hook and the Medicine Show looked nothing like a popular rock band. To this day it seem inexplicable that Dr Hook successfully circumvented the strictly enforced law that at least on member of a rock band must not be pig ugly (the law was lifted only in 1977 to allow Genesis entry into the USA after the departure of Peter Gabriel). They might have looked like a clump of hip-in-their-own-minds school teachers – English and Geography, probably – but they also looked as though excess consumption of the green stuff had left its deleterious mark. Dr Hook sang about that in I Got Stoned And I Missed It. Among the memories gone astray is having had sex with a virgin (yeah, right!). So it is an anti-drug song – the type your cool English/Geography teacher might introduce to illustrate the hazards of narcotics.

Over the time, Dr Hook lost their extended moniker and their lyrical quirk – puns about being hard aside – but created some decent if ingratiating pop. A few treacly MOR ballads aside, When You’re In Love… is perhaps as close to disco country music ever got (or vice versa), and the toe-tapper Sexy Eyes could have been sung by Olivia Newton-John, Luther Vandross or Linda Ronstadt – but none of whom have ever found acclaim for the poetic stylings of their lip growth.

Dr Hook – When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.mp3
Dr Hook – Sexy Eyes.mp3
Dr Hook – You Make My Pants Want To Get Up And Dance.mp3
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Cover Of The Rolling Stone.mp3
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Sylvia’s Mother.mp3

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  1. Stephen Kuykendall
    August 21st, 2008 at 02:01 | #1

    I grew up on Shel Silverstein the poet and was glad as I grew to adulthood to find the Medicine Show singing alot of songs penned by the bald/bearded bard. Virtually unknown sadly for his songs, I’m glad Dr. Hook gets some airplay now and again. I love that part in “Almost Famous” when the band hears they are going to appear on the cover of R.S. and they break into song. I wonder how many groups actually think that when they are featured on the mag?

  2. Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas
    August 21st, 2008 at 03:04 | #2

    Good stuff, Major Dude. We actually just bought a copy of their greatest hits on vinyl. Weird.

  3. Beth
    August 21st, 2008 at 20:15 | #3

    Dr Hook eh?First they frightened me. Then they really, really annoyed me. I do like ‘Sylvia’s Mother’, (although I don’t understand what’s being lampooned). I can honestly say that never, under any circumstances, would I. Ever. Not even if a kitten’s life depended on it.A Female Reader

  4. whiteray
    August 21st, 2008 at 23:06 | #4

    Great stuff, as usual. I saw these fellows live once, as an opener for Joe Cocker in April 1972. Of course, no one in the Met Center (a hockey arena in the Twin Cities suburbs) cared about anything but “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Still, the band was suitably energentic and raucous, which made it hard for the next act, Bobby Whitlock, who did an acoustic set (one of the best sets I’ve ever witnessed, as it turned out). I suppose I could claim that the mustaches of the Doctor et al. inspired my own attempt (begun in 1973 and still in existence with no interruptions or restaining orders), but that would be too convenient!

  5. ib
    August 21st, 2008 at 23:17 | #5

    Yes. Horrendous moustaches (and don’t forget accompanying the side-whiskers). But If it was simply that, I could almost forgive them. You go half way there, AMD, in drawing attention to the “deleterious” mark of narcotic excess, but it was the constant inane grinning that sent genuine shivers down my spine. That, and the simultaneous head nodding. Just look at that cover. 100% bona fide lunacy.I must concede with Beth; “Sylvia’s Mother” was halfway bearable. Until they started grinning…

  6. wzjn
    August 24th, 2008 at 16:00 | #6

    I used to really enjoy the Dr, what with “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover of …” but always pictured them as burn-out hippies who hung out in the woods. Hey – I was a kid!But they jumped the shark, for me, when they started putting out the soft, teeny-bopper syrup tunes.However, a lot of bands did. Grand Funk comes to mind. Whatever it takes to halt getting a job in the real world, right?

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