Fifty years ago this week — on March 29, 1973, to be exact — the ragged New Jersey country-rock band Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show got their wish: Rolling Stone put them on the cover.
Written by Shel Silverstein, the former Playboy cartoonist and children’s book author, Dr. Hook’s hit “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’” featured eyepatch-wearing singer Ray Sawyer on lead vocals, singing lines about buying “five copies for my mother” of the magazine. The band’s actual cover appearance was a colorful caricature of Sawyer and two of his six bandmates, Dennis Locorriere and Billy Francis. Inside was a delirious funny chronicle of the band’s travels, peppered with profanity-laced song parodies, tales of harmonizing on George Jones songs, encounters with eager young groupies on the concert trail, and the dumping of the mysterious contents of a Holiday Inn envelope just seconds before getting pulled over by a Virginia state trooper on the way to their next gig. One thing missing from the cover: the band’s name. They were instead referred to “What’s-Their-Names.”
The follow-up to their debut single, “Sylvia’s Mother,” which reached the Top Five, “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’” peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s pop chart. Silverstein wrote all the songs on the band’s second album, including “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball” and “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” which was covered by Emmylou Harris on 1975’s Elite Hotel.
In 1967, Silverstein began living on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. In a freewheeling video from 1972, he and the Dr. Hook band are seen partying on the houseboat, with the songwriter joking about their origins as medical students — the group passes a joint around the room. Silverstein, who died following a heart attack at 68 in 1999, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Dr. Hook’s Ray Sawyer died in 2018 at 81.
The performance video is taken from one of the band’s many TV appearances on series like Midnight Special, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, and the U.K.’s Old Grey Whistle Test. Their run of global hits continued throughout the 1980s with “Only Sixteen,” “Sharing the Night Together” and “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman,” among others.
Coincidentally, March 29 just happens to be National Doctors Day — we’re sure the good Dr. Hook would be proud.