I don’t know anybody who knows a damn thing about Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. When I told my wife we were going to listen to the band’s Greatest Hooks, she informed me that her favorite member was Animal. After explaining that this was eye-patch music and not Muppet music, she was less interested. I told her to reserve judgment and started jamming out to “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” the band’s most recognizable hit. My wife asked if all Dr. Hook’s songs were funny. As if in answer, the next song to play was “Sylvia’s Mother,” which is humorless except in the way that all things from the early ’70s have a Burt Reynolds sheen to them. I tried another approach, telling her that Shel Silverstein wrote those first two songs as well as “Carrie Me, Carrie,” which was by now playing on the stereo. The band was halfway through the best track on the collection, “The Millionaire,” by the time that I told her that it was “Boy Named Sue” and Playboy Mansion Silverstein and not Where the Sidewalk Ends Silverstein.
At this point my wife was confused, and even those who fondly remember Dr. Hook (and given the late-’80s tech of the band’s fan sites, the number may be dwindling) might be scratching their heads trying to describe the band’s appeal. Dr. Hook’s two major radio hits, along with the iconic visage of monocular frontman Ray Sawyer (often misidentified as Dr. Hook’s titular physician), sum up the band for the segment of the population that still remembers music B.N. (Before Nirvana). Although it stops short of implying that Dr. Hook is on par with such acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, Greatest Hooks shows the band had a lot more to offer than a couple of reliable requests to oldies radio.
And although Greatest Hooks does give a varied retrospective of Dr. Hook’s progression from swamp-beat raunch rock to achingly forced disco wannabes, there are unforgivable sins of omission. The absence of gloriously dirty tunes like “Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball” and “Penicillin Penny” in favor of dance numbers like “Girls Can Get It” or the syrupy balladry of “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman” is sinful. These disco-era experiments caused Sawyer to leave the band and all but killed Dr. Hook. (For incontrovertible evidence of that, check out Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere chasing the mom jeans down the street in a clip for “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iYpboTjtoQ.) To have the randy exuberance of the early years given equal time with the failed attempts at dance-floor assimilation damns Greatest Hooks to mediocrity. Like the many incomplete Dr. Hook compilations that have come before it (including one released earlier this year), Greatest Hooks promises more than “Cover of the Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother” but delivers a scant few of the band’s actual greatest hooks.