I’m not sure how or when I first became aware of Shel Silverstein, but I’d already heard a bunch of his songs. “Cover of the Rolling Stone” was all over the radio when I was in high school, and of course I’d heard “Boy Named Sue,” and at some point during those high school years there was a big television special on venereal disease that included Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show singing “Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most…”
…but I didn’t make the connection back then, and I’m guessing it was Vince McCann in Paris who played me a full Dr. Hook album and pointed out Shel’s skills as a songwriter — not just for twisted novelty songs, but also things like “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” which I heard again in 1981, when Marianne Faithful sang a tear-your-heart-out version on the soundtrack of an amazing film, Dušan Makavejev’s Montenegro. And then there was Loretta Lynn’s “One’s on the Way”:
They say to get her hair done Liz flies all the way to France
And Jackie’s seen in a discotheque doing a brand new dance
And the White House social season should be glittering and gay,
But here in Topeka, the rain is a-fallin’
The faucet is a-drippin’ and the kids are a-ballin’
One is a-toddlin’ and one is a-crawlin’
And one’s one the way.
Then I found the children’s books — Where the Sidewalk Ends and Lafcadio, the Lion that Shot Back — and the brilliant anti-children’s book, Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book for Good Little Boys and Girls. And then Dave van Ronk turned me on to Shel’s Playboy cartoons — his favorite was the cover drawing of Shel’s cartoon book (at left).
So I went on a binge and bought a bunch of Dr. Hook albums, and hunted up most of Shel’s own LPs, which tended to showcase the twisted novelty songs — “I Saw Polly in a Porny with a Pony” comes to mind — and then I found that Bobby Bare was including at least a half-dozen of Shel’s songs on every album he made, so I got those as well. I don’t know how many of Shel’s compositions I learned over the years, because most of them were birds of passage, coming and going rather than sticking in my repertoire, but on my first cross-country tour in 1983 I started playing this one for the bar crowds and my ex-half-sister-in-law, Hazel, who was traveling along as my road manager, declared it her favorite song.
Hazel and I toured across country and back a couple of times a year for the next three years, so I played this pretty often. I’ve never heard anyone else do it, except Bare on that record, and Bare’s records weren’t selling particularly well, so I don’t think a lot of other people know it… which is more testimony to Shel’s prolific versatility, because it’s a nice piece of writing, but just a footnote to his oeuvre — of which more in future posts.