Making Things I Didn’t Say

Sarah Jane Morris

Country can be one of the most gratingly predictable of musical styles.  The inverse is that the words are more important than in many other genres. While, for me, much of the genre sails perilously close to banality and truism, at its best it can convey a naked honesty and simplicity: the basic driving forces behind enduring popular music.

Dr Hook and the Medicine Show were a curious group with a confusing, self-contradictory pose.  In the early seventies, they had sizable hits with what was superficially flat-out schmaltz, such as Carry Me Carrie and Sylvia’s Mother.  But you knew that underneath all the quavering vocals, someone was winking slyly at you, keeping you constantly off-balance.  One look at these amiable ruffians on their record sleeve showed you that however passionate they were, you would keep a respectful distance from them in a bar.  Unless, of course, they bought you a drink, which would be nice.

Their secret weapon was one of the finest lyricists of the period.  Shel Silverstein had an extraordinary knack with words and insight, which would later take him to huge success as a children’s book writer with fantastical stories devoid of the prevalent condescension in the writing for little people.  His work combined the ache of real emotional turmoil with an extraordinary poetic depth.  Things I Didn’t Say, on Sloppy Seconds, was one of the most wrenching.

Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, cover of Sloppy Seconds
Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, cover of Sloppy Seconds

The original was cast in up-tempo country mode with a light arrangement, sufficiently this side of mawkishness to be effective.  Now, Sarah Jane Morris and I recast it in dance, an unlikely transformation (so much the better).  This was another track that had been squeezed out of Sprawland it fit perfectly with the dance designs of The Contessa’s Party.  We recorded it quickly, after which it lay untouched for a few years.  On returning, it occurred to some of us that it needed a break from the vocals, and so I wrote the deliberately minimal piano solo, trying to say something with as few notes as possible.

– MT, March 2006