7
Oct 08

DR HOOK – “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman”

FT + Popular38 comments • 5,515 views

#446, 17th November 1979

The song may be a standard of sorts, but Dr Hook were one of the acts I came to Popular with very little idea about – kind of bluesy? Rootsy? Definitely rockers – the name summoned vague associations of bike grease and whisky… but then I remembered. I was getting them confused with Dr Feelgood. Of course! How silly of me – I should have known that the smoothies behind “…Beautiful Woman” weren’t some kind of gnarly bar band outfit!

And then I saw the video. Oh well.

This song suffers on two counts. Firstly it sounds more than a little out of date by now – this is hardly the first time we’ve encountered these bumping “Rock Your Baby” style rhythms, so diminishing returns have set in. Dr Hook play them well, though, and keep the groove gentle enough that this at least doesn’t feel to me like a crass rush for disco, more a thoughtful accomodation with it. Unfortunately, the tasteful music actually magnifies the other issue with the song – it’s a little too slick, its trot through the perils of being in love with a byoo-tiful woo-man just a bit too oily for post-Seventies tastes. If you’re in a generous mood – and the band’s enthusiasm in the video clip might tip you into one – this makes the record more enjoyable, but it’s still a song I’m more likely to giggle at than really dig.

5

Comments

  1. 1
    Erithian on 7 Oct 2008 #

    A good rollicking record, highly enjoyable and hugely welcome at number one, although by no means their best (again a common theme).

    My mum was a big fan of Dr Hook but never saw them live. In the spring of last year I found out that Dennis Locorriere was doing a solo tour and playing at the Lowry centre at Salford Quays, and had the idea of treating Mum to a night out. I’d thought of springing a surprise on her, but decided to ask her about it. Having by now endured two years’ worth of dialysis taking up three days of each week, and needing a wheelchair to get around outside the house, she found the idea too much for her declining energies. I still thought it worth trying to find a way around it… but in the end the gig took place three days before her funeral. So obviously this band is forever associated with the saddest of times for me.

    But…

    If Dr Hook’s records were a person, they’d be very loving, pretty good in bed and most of all you’d never be too far away from a belly laugh. Anybody who doesn’t know their earlier, more comic material should check it out. Much of it was written by the late Shel Silverstein – cartoonist, children’s author and the writer of not only their first hit “Sylvia’s Mother” but also “A Boy Named Sue” and the Junior Choice favourite “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Who Would Not Take The Garbage Out)”.

    Dr Hook announced themselves with titles like “You Make My Pants Want To Get Up and Dance” or “Don’t Give A Dose To The One You Love Most” and lines like “They got groupies for their bands / and all I got is my right hand” (“Everybody’s Making It Big But Me”) or “I got all this here money / but I’m a pretty ugly guy” (“The Millionaire”). It’s a sense of humour that prevents even their love ballads from getting too gloopy – “A Little Bit More” stayed at No 2 for five weeks behind Elton and Kiki in 1976, and this and many other Hook songs are among my guilt-free pleasures.

    And my impression of them as people rests on some cracking interviews with the likes of Rolling Stone, Sounds and Record Mirror.
    On a TV appearance where they changed behind a revealingly backlit screen: “I believe they use the expression “No big thing” – but hey, it was cold in that studio.”
    On the whole band playing a gig with one guitar and one mic when the tour organisers had fouled up: “We had to stand there and say, “The equipment went to Helsinki. Yeah, it sounds a lot like Philadelphia y’know.”
    On meeting the band of the moment on TOTP: “We didn’t know what to expect from a new wave band. I mean the Sex Pistols kept flushing people down lavatories and spitting at secretaries, and the Boomtown Rats isn’t a friendly name.”
    On their attitude to success: “And we’ve had more fuckin’ FUN than any other band in the history of the universe. And you know why? When we had our first [US] Number 1 we sat down and talked and decided that if we had fifty Number 1s in a row there were still 900 million Chinese who didn’t give a fuck. The world is bigger than rock’n’roll!”

    I always liked the cut of the Doctor’s jib – even if there are probably more Chinese who’d give a fuck nowadays.

  2. 2
    rosie on 7 Oct 2008 #

    It’s a throwback to the beginning of the decade innit. Dr Hook (and was there a Medicine Show attached?) was just fine when doing Sylvia’s Mother seven years earlier, and it caught a lot of the near desperation of thwarted young love.

    This one feels altogether too smug though, and it always did. The good doctor doesn’t seem to consider what the woman – beautiful or not – has to say about the situation or her own personal life. Instead, he’s a possession to be guarded closely. Now, that may well be ironic and there is a darker side to this song, but somehow I don’t think there’s anything more than routine about it. Irony would be lost on its target audience for somewhat Countrified pop.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Rosie, bear in mind the review at the time that read: “When you’re in love with a beautiful woman you don’t look like Dr Hook. Or if you do you may as well give up.”

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 7 Oct 2008 #

    My seven year old self liked singing along to the choruses, but got bored during the verses. My thirty-six year old self is even less enthusiastic.

    I did notice that this was the first big hit of my new obsession with pop that my then 51 year old father liked, unlike the superior Police, Numan, Rats, etc.

  5. 5
    Conrad on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Wow, there’s a lot I don’t know about Dr Hook. Thanks for a great post there Erithian, and for sharing the most painful part of your recollection of the band.

    Were these early songs released as Dr Hook and the Medicine Band? It’s a name I’ve heard but the singles only ever seem to be credited to Dr Hook.

    Funny you should mention the Sex Pistols. I have an episode of “So It Goes” featuring the Pistols doing “Anarchy” (the programme also has a riff of the month competition which appears to be deadly serious, although Peter Cook is introducing it, and an albums review which, commenting on the latest Wings’ LP shows a music paper review slaughtering the album, headlined “Five Die In Air Disaster”!)

    Anyway, the programme ends with Dr Hook and his band driving away shouting “So It goes…”

    As for the song, it seems out of place to me in the New Wave peak/New Pop dawn of Autumn ’79 among Numan, The Police and Trevor Horn, but it’s likeable enough, and more understated than I remember it.

    I always get this one muddled up with Bellamy Brothers “IF I Said You Had A Beautiful Body…”

    Same period, similar title, similar country-ish vein.

  6. 6
    rosie on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Erithian @ 3: Haha! That’s a good line. But I couldn’t bear it in mind because I didn’t actually read the music press at the time. Amazing as some Populistas may find this!

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 7 Oct 2008 #

    The good doctor’s humour wasn’t lost on Terry Wogan – at least not the title’s pay-off line. When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, it’s hard. ‘Tel’ helped to push this one to the top, with much sniggering. From memory, it was getting airplay some time before it charted.

    I also remember high placings on the Smash Hits disco chart (possibly BMRB? Something well respected I’m sure) for this and its two sequels – Better Love Next Time and Sexy Eyes (with its charming Latin/flute/Nashville segment on pop’s Venn diagram).

    Shel Silverstein?? Cheers Erithian. Even though I love his childrens books I’d never put the two together. In fact I mentally confused the Dr Hook songwriter with southern soul label owner Shelby Singleton. Sometimes I think my brain is full.

  8. 8
    Waldo on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Was Evan Stephens joking when he wrote the first line of this? Certainly Doctor Hook seemed to think so, as I distinctly remember that when it became obvious that the record was going to be huge here in the UK, the group came over to this country and were at great pains not to lay the running gag to rest. “It certainly helps, there, partner!” I recall one of them quipping. Yeeesss…

    I can equally recall another chart cock-up concerning this one but to amplify will need guidance notes from Marcello, which I have not the slightest doubt he can provide. He’s good like that, the Scottish lad! It appears that WYILWABW was placed at the top a week earlier, only for the rug to be pulled from beneath it and we were stuck with Lena again. Fortunately, it had no bearing on the record’s ultimate destiny so all was well.

    Like most of you (well certainly those of you in my age bracket and older), my first encounter with these lunatics was with “Sylvia’s Mother”, a record openly detested by friend Blackburn for reasons only he could possibly explain, as far back as 1972. This incredibly original piece only just escaped our attention, in fact. It was, of course, a complete piss-take, concerning the narrator’s persistent attempts to speak to his gal, only to be thwarted by her blatantly lying mother as well as by an over-zealous operator constantly demanding remuneration. As the verses progress, so the desperate pleas (“PLLEEEEEZE…”) intensify and all this to a wonderful country arrangement and perfectly pitched harmonies. Who says that Americans don’t do irony? Magnificent stuff!

    Two other Hook tracks worthy of mention, “Sexy Eyes” and the beautiful “A Little Bit More” (another Popular near-miss), which despite clearly being concerned with post-coital activities was passed by the BBC as fit for broadcast, with for once was the correct answer.

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Number 2 watch: Two weeks of one of the few Queen singles which I really really like, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ – Sun Sessions Elvis crashed into FM rock with glorious results.

  10. 10
    Waldo on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Tom. I have e-mailed you about something.

  11. 11
    Conrad on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Re #8, Waldo my Guinness Top 40 Charts book which lists each Singles chart up to 1991 (the edition I have anyway), places this at Number 1 for the w/e 10 November, with Lena at No. 2.

    The same week Abba are at Number 3 with a song boasting a memorable keyboard melody that will of course crop up in sampled form much, much later on Popular.

  12. 12
    henry s on 7 Oct 2008 #

    did these guys ever get on the cover of Rolling Stone?

  13. 13
    LondonLee on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I love Sylvia’s Mother (partly because my mum loved it) and I prefer to think of it straight and not as some piss-take by a bunch of grizzled old hippies having a laugh at teenage pop songs. But this one never did anything for me, it’s like a horrible mash-up of slick LA session muso rock and disco, neither of which comes out of it well.

  14. 14
    Waldo on 7 Oct 2008 #

    # 11 – Yes, Conrad. Basically, I remember it as Geoff Love/Four Seasons revisited. Dr Hook was announced as the new number one only for the decision to be reversed subsequently under the guise of computer error. My own take on it was that with “Sweet Jesus” returned to the top, the British people were mobilised into emergency action. Out they all went to buy WYILWABW, the record flying off the shelves and we were finally rid of Lena to a chorus of secular hosannas nationwide. The wretched woman was more dificult to dispose of than Rasputin.

  15. 15
    Waldo on 7 Oct 2008 #

    …that’s the Russian geezer not the Boney M record, which didn’t get to number one at all, of course.

  16. 16
    wwolfe on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I love “Carry Me, Carrie,” back when they still had the Medicine Show attached to the good Doctor. Another Shel Silverstein gem, it’s undoubtedly the best adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel pop music’s ever known. (Seriously, though, it’s a top notch record: a perfect balance of humor and pathos, with a genuine rush of exhileration at the climax.)

  17. 17
    mike on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Great post, Erithian. I also have a parentally derived soft spot for Dr. Hook: my late father and late step-mother both liked the band a great deal, and those two big 1976 hits (“If Not You” and “A Little Bit More”) remind me of the all too brief early, happy, honeymoon phase of their catastrophically ill-matched and destructive relationship. “If Not You” in particular was “their song”; my stepmother bought the 7″, and they often jokily quoted it at each other. (“Who’s going to iron all my shirts, and who’s going to kiss where it hurts?”)

    As for “When You’re In Love…” – yes, I can well see how it could be legitimately interpreted as an example of dodgy gender politics, but I read it more as a breezy, light-hearted, shoulder-shrugging, somewhat self-deprecating skit on the perils of dating a few notches above one’s rightful station in the Hotness stakes. And as someone who was still carrying a massive torch for the athletic blonde hotty who popped my cherry in June (see the “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” post), with occasional long-distance re-matches still to be had, I related to this Big Time.

    I played this again this afternoon, and found myself charmed all over again by its “Rock Your Baby” derived soft shoe shuffle, by its ridiculous innuendo – and especially by those fractionally overdone backing vocals, whose call-and-responses constantly teeter on the brink of absurdity, raising a smile every time.

    A warm, fluffy, affectionate and unashamedly sentimental 7 from me.

  18. 18
    Matos W.K. on 8 Oct 2008 #

    Ah, but Tom, the smoothies behind everything in the late ’70s were vaguely gnarly bar band outfits! Steely Dan and its fallout were all absolutely longhairs and the like. It isn’t until early ’80s Britain (I think) that shaved-and-groomed became any kind of norm again for the smooth-sound set. (See Yacht Rock for further evidence.)

  19. 19
    The Intl on 8 Oct 2008 #

    #12 – yeah.

    Interesting that their early days had them tied in with Shel Silverstein.

    Later, lead singer was showing up at state fairs as “lead singer from…”

    And that’s about it.

  20. 20
    Magic Fly on 8 Oct 2008 #

    I have a lingering memory of the chap in the hat flipping his eyepatch to reveal a fully functioning eye. Can that be true?

  21. 21
    DJ Punctum on 8 Oct 2008 #

    The “Rock Your Baby” beat continues to crop up in unexpected places. They’d lost the Medicine Show, Silverstein and therefore pretty well all of the humour, settling for anxious-sounding MoR pop. Indeed it’s noticeable that throughout such hits as “A Little Bit More” and “If Not You” Locorriere invariably sounds on the verge of a nervous collapse, or exploding, his tremulous counter-tenor of a voice never at ease.

    99% of radio DJs gained cheap laughter from THAT opening line. And although it sees them belatedly attempt disco, the song is an exercise in sustained paranoia; she’s so beautiful that Locorriere can only feel insecure, as evinced by the dreadful emphasis that he puts on the word “’phone” in the couplet “You want to trust her/Then somebody hangs up when you answer the ‘phone” or the shivering triple moan he gives the word “lovers” in the phrase “faint-hearted lovers.” Thus it becomes a list song of all the arguments against falling in love – “You watch her eyes,” “You watch her friends,” “You look for lies,” and, finally and inevitably, “You go it alone,” because frankly, by the time the song ends, Locorriere sounds like (a) David Byrne and (b) a potential suicide bomber. Note the lack of citing of the Beautiful Woman’s feelings for him, if any. Musically, though, it drifts by as blandly and unquestionably as all of Dr Hook’s later works, and consequently my raising much enthusiasm for it is, as they say, hard. NEXT!

    (still, props to the actual “Dr Hook” inventing Bez in the video)

  22. 22
    pink champale on 8 Oct 2008 #

    yes, djp. i’ve always thought of this as a mellow cousin to all the paranoid soul hits of the lates 60’s early 70’s – ‘bernadette’, ‘backstabbers’, ‘who is he..’ etc. still, i thought this might get a bit of a kicking (even here) and am pleased to see pretty much everyone thinks it’s alright.

  23. 23
    vinylscot on 8 Oct 2008 #

    Like DJP (I suspect), I was disappointed at Dr Hook’s evolution from purveyors of good, catchy, quirky, but most of all clever songs, to syrupy MOR pap like this and the two 1976 hits.

    Listening to it even now, I can see what the writer is trying to do, but that’s because it’s signposted in thirty-foot-high letters; a little subtlety would not have gone amiss.

    Hated it then; hate it now; one of these #1s that make you despair at the record-buying public.

  24. 24
    DJ Punctum on 8 Oct 2008 #

    It’s a giant step between this and the next number one, that’s for sure…

  25. 25
    LondonLee on 8 Oct 2008 #

    This and the Lena Martell were proof that our mums and dads still had some influence on the charts. It’s like punk never happened!

  26. 26
    DJ Punctum on 8 Oct 2008 #

    Not my mum and dad, pal.

  27. 27
    henry s on 8 Oct 2008 #

    I never knew that they had a singer other than the eyepatch guy!

  28. 28
    henry s on 8 Oct 2008 #

    and I’ve just sorted out this year’s Halloween costume!

  29. 29
    H. on 9 Oct 2008 #

    Fun fact: their early seventies hit “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” was released in the UK as “Cover Of The Radio Times”. True!

  30. 30
    Mark G on 9 Oct 2008 #

    Not true:

    After the BBC banned it, some CBS bods recorded themselves singing over the track, the line “on the cover of the radio times”, pressed a few promos and sent them to the BBC.

    The actual normal single is the same version as the USA version.

  31. 31
    Erithian on 9 Oct 2008 #

    There was also a Radio 1 spoof (Noel Edmonds might have been behind it) where the question in every line of “If Not You” was answered with a DJ’s jingle, viz: “Who’s gonna iron my shirts?” – “Dave Lee Travis!” – “Who’s gonna kiss where it hurts?” -“David Hamilton!” etc etc.

    Magic Fly #20 – no, Ray Sawyer did actually lose an eye in a car crash in 1967. A friend of mine was helpless with laughter when he saw kids dancing to WYILWABW at a school disco by holding a hand over one eye and shaking imaginary maracas with the free hand.

    Another favourite Hook quote I’ve remembered:
    Q: “Why did you call your latest album “Bankrupt”?”
    A: “Why did they call it “World War Two”? We didn’t have a dime.”

  32. 32
    Chris Brown on 9 Oct 2008 #

    @14: Lena’s record company apparently claimed that the apparent drop down the charts discouraged shops from re-ordering stock of her single, and thus handed an advantage to Dr Hook. How much of this is true I don’t know how to judge.

    I still think this is bobbins though. I don’t particularly like his vocal anyway, and everything about this seems to go wrong – boring tune, all the good bits of which are copied from ‘Rock Your Baby’, awful lyric, smugness and a really flaccid production.

  33. 33
    DJ Punctum on 10 Oct 2008 #

    From what I recall the real reason for the drop down the charts was Pye’s crap stock control and hence insufficient copies of the single in the shops over the crucial weekend.

  34. 34
    Robbie on 13 Oct 2008 #

    @11: FT’s Conrad

    The 1992 edition of the Guinness Top 40 Charts book does mistakenly list Dr Hook as the number one for November 10, 1979 with Lena Martell dropping to number two. The chart used for that week in the Top 40 Charts book is the erroneous chart that appeared in Music Week, issue dated 10 November 1979, rather than the corrected chart. I believe the 1996 edition of Top 40 Charts also contains the same erroneous chart.

    Unlike the 1976 chart mix-up which was corrected within a few hours, the Dr Hook / Lena Martell mix-up took 24 hours to correct which meant Music Week went to print with an incorrect chart. In those days the chart pull out in Music Week was displayed in many record stores. This led to Martell’s record company claiming that the mistake effectively reduced demand both from retailers for re-orders and customers for purchases of for her single and cost her the number one the following week.

    Incidentally, the chart error was caused by some of Martell’s sales being added to Dr Hook’s sales and it was the fact that her label thought it suspicious that chart figures showed Dr Hook had outsold Lena Martell by such a large margin (by 150% if I remember correctly the reports at the time) that led to the chart compilers rerunning a sales count of those two records.

  35. 35
    Paytes on 2 Jul 2010 #

    Anyone know who produced The Hook’s light-as-a-feather disco singles (WYILWABW, Sexy Eyes, Better Love Next Time)?

    … BTW, this is my third post (I think) and I think that I may have flouted FT etiquette by not announcing myself as a first timer on my first(My Camera Never Lies). Hello!

  36. 36
    TomLane on 3 Jul 2010 #

    The Producer’s name was Ron Haffkine. He was also their co-manager. He produced some other things as well. But it appears his biggest work was with them.

  37. 37
    Paytes on 4 Jul 2010 #

    Thank you muchly!

  38. 38
    Patrick Mexico on 5 Apr 2013 #

    “Dr. Hook? He’s a poof*!”

    * Before anyone thinks I’m one of Michelle Bachman’s campaign team, this was a quote from that guy’s dad in that great, long-forgotten Channel 4 thingy** Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. I’m laughing at him, not with him. Plus, he liked deep-fried black pudding. It’s like admitting to liking that I See The Moon thing from them Stargazy Pie rogues or sumfink innit badman..

    ** the most 1990s word ever?

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