Sylvia's Mother

"Sylvia's Mother"
Single by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
from the album Doctor Hook
B-side "Makin' It Natural"
Released March 1972
Genre Country rock
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Shel Silverstein

Ron Haffkine

Engineer = Bob DiLorenzo
Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show singles chronology
"Last Morning"
"Sylvia's Mother'"
"Carry Me, Carrie"

"Sylvia's Mother" was a 1972 single by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show and the group's first hit song. It was written by Shel Silverstein, produced by Ron Haffkine and was highly successful in the United States, reaching #5 on the Billboard singles chart,[1] as well as #1 in Ireland and #2 in the United Kingdom. It also spent 3 weeks at #1 on the Australian music charts,[2] making it the 15th ranked single in Australia for 1972. It appeared on the group's first album, Doctor Hook.

Song background

"Sylvia's Mother" is autobiographical, with songwriter Shel Silverstein drawing upon his unsuccessful attempt to revive a failed relationship. Silverstein had been in love with a woman named Silvia Pandolfi, but she would later become engaged to another man and end up as a museum curator at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City.[3][4][5][6][7] Desperate to continue the relationship, Silverstein called Pandolfi's mother, Louisa, but she instead told him that the love had ended.[8]

The lyrics tell the story in much the same way: A young man, despondent and near tears after learning that Sylvia, with whom he'd had an earlier bad breakup, is leaving town, tries to telephone her to say one last good-bye, or at least try to get a suitable explanation as to why their relationship failed and maybe try to rekindle things. However, Sylvia's mother (Mrs. Avery) tells him that Sylvia is engaged to be married, and is trying to start a new life in Galveston. She asks the man not to say anything to her because she might start crying and want to stay. She tells the man Sylvia is hurrying to catch a 9 o'clock train. In an aside, she then tells Sylvia to take an umbrella. She then returns to the phone conversation, thanks the (unnamed) narrator for calling. The pathos lies in the singer's awareness that Sylvia is right there with her mother, unaware that he's the man on the phone. Throughout the phone conversation, an operator cuts in to ask for more money ("40 cents more for the next three minutes") to continue the call.

Cover versions

"Sylvia's Mother"
Single by Bobby Bare
B-side "Music City U.S.A."
Released 1972
Format 7"
Recorded June 15, 1972
Mercury Custom Recording Studio
Nashville, Tennessee
Genre Country
Length 3:52
3:39 (7" version)
Label Mercury Records 73317
Writer(s) Shel Silverstein
Producer(s) Jerry Kennedy
Bobby Bare singles chronology
"What Am I Gonna Do"
"Sylvia's Mother"
"I Hate Goodbyes"

In 1972, about the same time the Dr. Hook version was on the chart, country singer Bobby Bare recorded a cover version. Bare's version became a hit, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart that October. One of his last hit records during his stay at Mercury Records, "Sylvia's Mother" became the first of many Silverstein-penned songs Bare had success with, and would foreshadow both an entire album dedicated to Silverstein-penned songs (1973's Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies) and hit records written by Silverstein, including "Marie Laveau," "The Winner," "Rosalie's Good Eats Café", "The Mermaid", "Warm and Free" and others.

"Sylvia's Mother" was also covered by Bon Jovi on This Left Feels Right Live.

In 1976, the French singer Sacha Distel covered the song : "Le Père de Sylvia" (Sylvia's Father !)

A sequel titled "Mrs. Avery" has been written and performed by British folk rockers The Men They Couldn't Hang. The song begins years later when the main character of "Sylvia's Mother" is divorced, has children of his own, and happens to find an old picture of Sylvia which prompts him to call her mother again.

Chart performance

Chart (1972) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report[9] 1
Belgian VRT Top 30 9
Canadian RPM Top Singles 2
Denmark Top 10[10] 3
Dutch Top 40[11] 3
German Media Control Chart[11] 9
Irish Singles Chart 1
Italian Singles Chart 3
New Zealand Singles Chart 1
Norwegian Singles Chart[11] 5
South African Singles Chart 1
Swedish Singles Chart 9
Swiss Singles Chart[11] 3
U.K. Singles Chart 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 5


Chart (1972) Peak
South African Singles Chart 3
Australian Kent Music Report 15
Italian Singles Chart 22
Dutch Top 40 33
German Media Control Charts 48
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 64
Belgian VRT Top 30 90

Foreign adaptations

A Croatian version of the song, named "Silvija", is played by popular Croatian singer Dražen Zečić.


  1. Fread Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits (New York, Billboard, 2003), p. 312
  2. "Go-Set Australian charts - 22 July 1972". 1972-07-22. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  3. Pat Binder, Gerhard Haupt. "Cinco continentes y una ciudad - Curators". Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  4. "Searching For Sylvia". 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  5. New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s, page 11, by Ruben Gallo
  6. Age of discrepancies, page 31, by Olivier Debroise
  7. Kalil, Susie (1993-12-16). "Gray Matter of Concern". Houston Press. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  9. Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. "Sylvia's Mother - Dr Hook & The Medicine Show". Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Steffen Hung. "Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show - Sylvia's Mother". Retrieved 2016-10-07.
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