Review of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's Sloppy
(Rolling Stone, March 29, 1973.)
by Charlie Gillett
If you look at the pictures and read the stories, you'll have guessed that Dr. Hook is a bunch of lascivious layabouts dedicated to carrying us through to a new era of demented debauchery. Listen to the first track on this album, and you'll know you're right. "All the fags and dikes, they boogyin' together...freakin' at the Freaker's Ball."
It makes sense, Charlie Brown and Poison Ivy settling down for a few years of orgies after unimaginable nightmares in the Acid Age. But although Dr. Hook can get by as successors to the Coasters, this kind of play-on-words, situation comedy material doesn't show the group at its best. Only three of the songs on Sloppy Seconds are comedy numbers; the rest are all sadness and remorse. In direct contradiction of the image, Dr. Hook is a pop group that makes you want to cry.
The effectiveness of the group depends almost entirely on the voice of Dennis Locorriere, singing custom-made material by Shel Silverstein. There was a time when Sam and Dave did nothing but Hayes and Porter songs, and before that the Coasters sang only Lieber and Stoller material, but currently nobody so restricts themselves. The result is that Dennis develops a consistent character on the record, as if he was writing his own material, and he emerges as a tearjerking singer who has no rival in pop today.
"Last Mornin'", "If I'd Only Come and Gone", and "I Can't Touch the Sun" are my favorites. The first would have been my choice for a single from the album, a list of the things that the singer is doing for the last time as he prepares to leave the city for his country home, while the other two are both beautiful ways of saying good-bye. "The Things I Didn't Say" is a good-bye with resentment, marvelously controlled and insidiously expressed while "Stayin' Song" is the good-bye that never happened "when my mind starts wandering up that windin' road ahead, my feet don't seem to want to walk away."
Those five songs are the core of the album, none of them in the least degenerate or shocking, and none of them needing any help from the rest of Dr. Hook apart from Dennis. "Queen of the Silver Dollar," a tale of a prostitute in cowboy territory, works quite well as an ensemble sing-along, but there are several places on the album where it seems that producer Ron Haffkine has had to sacrifice the mood of the song in order to give the musicians something to do.
If these guys would relax and become a straight pop group, they'd wipe the Osmonds and the Partridge Family off the board. Hey fellers, why don'tcha start a TV show? I'll watch, I promise.