Following the example of Sailor you’d expect a band called Dr. Hook to have wooden legs and parrots on their shoulders, but apart from the one guy with an eye patch they didn’t dress up like pirates. Shame, I think they missed a marketing opportunity there.
Their first big hit was “Sylvia’s Mother” in 1972 when they still had “…& The Medicine Show” in their name and long before they polished themselves up and struck gold with bouncy, slick hits like “Sexy Eyes” and “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.” The song tells the story of some poor chap trying to get through to his ex-girlfriend on the phone before she leaves town but her damn mother won’t put her on and to make matters worse the telephone operator keeps coming on the line asking him to put more money in the slot. My mother loved this sort of domestic melodrama — I think she imagined Sylvia’s mother standing by the phone in the hallway wearing her dressing gown — and she also worked as a telephone operator herself (first for the GPO and then at the BBC) so she got a kick out of being such major player in a pop record. Far as I know no one has written a song that mentions graphic designers so she’s one up on me there.
This was written by poet/author/musician/cartoonist Shel Silverstein who wrote all their early material (as well as Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”) and I’ve read that it’s meant to be a parody of weepy teenage heartbreak songs which makes me like it a bit less if true, especially as they ended up recording such bland mainstream rubbish themselves later in their career — who are they to be taking the piss out of sappy pop records, the smug hippie bastards. If they were having a joke someone should have told them that one of the greatest things about pop is that it can be emotionally overwrought to quite a silly degree (eg: The Shangri-Las) but still be brilliant and moving.
So whatever their motives it still works as a pretty good little dramatic pop record, it doesn’t matter if the emotions are cheap or if the lead singer get a bit too blubbery when the operator asks him for 40 cents more, please — if anything that makes it even greater.