Dr. Hook – Backwoods Pop With a Sense of Humor

By Rick Hiduk

Ray Sawyer, the founder of the pop-rock band Dr. Hook (& the Medicine Show), died today (12/31/18) at the age of 81. The group was founded in Union City, New Jersey and would undergo many personnel changes right through the past few years when his son and grandson had become part of the live ensemble.

I had the privilege if seeing him perform at Penn’s Peak near Jim Thorpe, PA just a few years ago. But that was not the only time that I saw the group in person. A radio station sponsored an appearance and autograph signing by them one Saturday in 1977 at the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre. I somehow lost the scrap of paper that I had Ray and another group member sign, but my sister, Lisa, never even got hers home. Another little girl snatched it out of her hand and ran down the mall with it!

Though I never considered Dr. Hook to be a country band, there was an undeniable folky twang to many of their earlier recordings, and the songs told a story. Ray Swayer placed 21 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 between 1972 and 1982, twenty of them with the band. Nonetheless, the Dr. Hook was certainly not a mainstay of pop radio. Their hits were often followed by misses.

Though they never scored a major country hit, nine of the groups songs and one by Ray as a solo artist did grace the country charts, the biggest of those being “If Not You” at #26 in early 1977. Their albums “A Little Bit More” and “Pleasure and Pain” both made the Top 20 on the Country LP chart in 1976 and 1978, respectively.

Their later music was dubbed by some critics as “blue-eyed soul” and often carried a soft disco beat, but only “Sexy Eyes” made it onto the Soul charts, peaking at #67 in 1980.

Dr. Hook garnered six Gold Records, beginning with their first hit, “Sylvia’s Mother” in 1972. The star power they had built up on Capitol Records between 1975, when they dropped the Medicine Show moniker, and 1980 quickly faded when they moved to Casablanca Records. They never quite made it into the video age.

What follows is a synopsis of Ray Sawyer’s greatest hits, based on the chart performances of single first on Billboard’s Hot 100 and then on the Adult Contemporary charts. Each title is followed by its peak position (number of weeks on the chart) and year that the song was a hit. Subsequent footnotes follow asterisks.

This data does not reflect what other songs were competing on the charts at the same time, which is why it might surprise some to see the song with the greatest jukebox longevity, “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” at #6. As a DJ, I always know that “Cover of the Rolling Stone” will work with most bar crowds, but my favorite was always “Sylvia’s Mother.” (Incidentally, Dr. Hook did grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in March 1973.)

  1. Sexy Eyes 5 (21) 1980
  2. Sylvia’s Mother 5 (15) 1972
  3. When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman 6 (25) 1979
  4. Only Sixteen 6 (22) 1976*
  5. Sharing the Night Together 6 (22) 1978
  6. Cover of the Rolling Stone 6 (20) 1973**
  7. A Little Bit More 11 (24) 1976***
  8. Better Love Next Time 12 (19) 1980
  9. Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk 25 (12) 1982
  10. Girls Can Get It 34 (14) 1980
  11. Walk Right In 46 (10) 1977****
  12. Years From Now 51 (9) 1980
  13. All The Time in the World 54 (7) 1979
  14. If Not You 55 (11) 1976
  15. Loveline 60 (10) 1982
  16. Life Ain’t Easy 68 (7) 1963
  17. That Didn’t Hurt Too Bad 69 (4) 1981
  18. Carrie Me, Carrie 71 (6) 1972
  19. (One More Year of) Daddy’s Little Girl 81 (3) 1976*****
  20. Roland the Roadie and Gertrude the Groupie 83 (4) 1973
  21. The Millionaire 95 (5) 1975  

*originally charted by Sam Cooke #28 1959

**backed with the popular “Queen of the Silver Dollar”

***backed with “A Couple More Years” #55 country hit

****originally charted by the Rooftop Singers #1 1963

***** Ray Sawyer solo

Biggest Adult Contemporary Hits

  1. Better Love Next Time 3 1979
  2. When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman 5 1979
  3. Sexy Eyes 6 1980
  4. Only Sixteen 14 1976
  5. A Little Bit More 15 1976
  6. Years From Now 17 1980
  7. Sharing the Night Together 18 1978
  8. Loveline 19 1982
  9. If Not You 21 1976
  10. Walk Right In 39 1977
  11. All The Time in the World 41 1979

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