On Second Thought
Dr. Hook - Bankrupt

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Dr. Hook’s album Bankrupt is chock-full of idiotic, contrived lyrics that would make any sane person vomit; pointless slide guitar and country-rock posturing, ill-conceived genre exercises, absurdly obvious drug references, ridiculously ironic cover art, and even an inane version of a Sam Cooke song.

If this was 1975, not 2002, I would dismiss this album as a terrible waste of good vinyl – a completely useless addition to rock history.

However, as much as I wish it were 1975, it’s the year 2002, and Dr. Hook is fantastic.

Listening to this album is like attending a party—I’m stepping into a seedy Alabama bar, complete with country-rock pumping from the jukebox, a slack-jawed drunk talking over every song (even the good ones), round after round after round after round of cheap American beer until last call, the jukebox lights go dim and the party continues in the parking lot with beer-fueled sing-alongs.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this album were recorded and mixed in exactly 45 minutes—full of energy, as if take one was the “keeper” for every song. The lyrics, though insipid, are sung with such pure emotion that every simple line sounds like a message from above.

The album starts with “Levitate” a faux-funk piece that demands the crowd try a new dance: "Alright now I want you to do something / I want you to raise your right foot” chants the singer, in true funk fashion.
Everybody get up on your right foot
Alright, now raise your left foot
No no no no don't put your right foot back down
Keep 'em both up
That's it
Now you've got it
Now get up... I mean... get down!
The lyrics’ simplicity belies their true impact, as they reference the famous “get up” versus “get down” debate, as well as paying homage/poking fun at the myriad 50s/60s dance-craze songs.

“Only Sixteen” (the Sam Cooke song, referenced earlier) is played verbatim, and I suppose it’s up to every individual to determine if it’s a genuine sweet love song or a sick venture into Nabokovian forbidden lust.

“I Got Stoned And I Missed It” is the first Shel Silverstein song on the album. Yes, the Shel Silverstein. Unbeknownst to many of the Nintendo Generation, the famous Shel was a writer for Playboy and Rolling Stone long before he was churning out volumes of poems and short stories for children (complete with his Thurber-esque scribbles). The song is the spiritual ancestor of Afroman’s “I Got High,” listing a variety of scenarios in which the protagonist suffers short-term memory loss, due to the negative effects of marijuana use.

The rest of side one continues in the same irreverent fashion, followed by track one, side two: “The Millionaire.” Despite the “I’ll sing this verse, you sing the next” aesthetic that reminds me of last year’s boy-bands, the song succeeds. Even the painful chorus is made sweet by the studio-magic harmonies that emerge from the mix.
And I've got more money
Than a horse has hairs
‘Cos my rich old uncle died
And answered all my prayers
But havin' all of this money
Is gonna bring me down
If you ain't with me, honey
To help me spread it around
“Everybody’s Making It Big But Me” is one of the other Silverstein-penned, and the last outstanding song on the album. The instrumentation is nothing especially inspiring – a simple two-note bass line, and rudimentary guitar, but that’s not the point. The lyrics are nothing a high-school freshman couldn’t write, but they work on several levels. From the 1975 perspective, lines like “Well, I paint my face with glitter / Just like Bowie does / And I wear the same mascara / That Mick Jagger does / And I even put some lipstick on / That just hurt my dad and mom” provide some cunning social commentary. From the 2002 perspective, verses like the below are hilarious for not only the pop-cultural references (still valid!) but also the nostalgia.
I hear that Alice Cooper's got a foxy chick
To wipe off his snake, keep him rich
And Elton John's got two fine ladies
And Doctor John's got three
And I'm still seein' them same old sleezoes
That I used to see
Dr. Hook’s Bankrupt is hopelessly dated... no one will ever argue that these songs are timeless. Even the Shel Silverstein tunes are stranded in the 70s, and lack the universal appeal of some of his best (adult) work. However, if you can accept that, and embark on an audio journey back in time, you’ll find that Bankrupt is one of the best (if not the best) country/novelty/party-rock albums of 1975.

By: Evan Chakroff
Published on: 2003-09-01
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