Carry Me Carrie - Dr Hook and the Medicine Show
Back in '75 when I was a student in Manchester, one Saturday afternoon at around about five o'clock while we were wondering what to do that night, a friend said "Doctor Hook are playing at Salford Polytechnic, why not go see them?". Now no-one even only half cool would normally contemplate going to see Dr Hook and the Medicine Show. Three years before they'd had a hit with "Sylvia's Mother", a pastiche on romantic tragedy that was very close to being a novelty record, and that was it. The kind of band from America, we were more likely to step out for were long-haired, hippy style west coasters like the Grateful Dead, the Byrds or maybe southern bands like the Allman Brothers. But we were bored and had nothing else to do, so we went.
It was one of things that sometimes happens, when all your expectations are overturned for the better. We got hippies, we got long hair and some, we got fantastic vocals and harmonies, we got great musicianship, lots of laughs, but above all one of the finest evenings of live music I've ever experienced, right up there with the best of them. And the highlight of the evening was their fourth encore, when they played "Carry Me Carrie" .... yet again.
The original studio recording is a gem, I still play the vinyl 45 as a closer for discos, but just recently I've come across this version of live on Shel Silverstein's houseboat in the same year. This just about totally captures the rapture I felt all those years ago, showing their humour, bringing back their general scruffy hairiness, moving you with lead singer Dennis Locorriere's impassioned vocals, the total commitment of eyepatched Ray Sawyer and the others' harmonies, and the mayhem that is totally stoned and professional at the same time. This is the same magic that won the audience's heart that night in Salford.
Within a year the band had gone on to have a massive worldwide hit and change of direction with the soppy "A Little bit More", and generally, it hurts to say it, recording crap. But they were phenomenally successful throughout the remainder of the 70's, so who can blame them?
Most of their early songs were penned by Shel Silverstein, a terrific poet, novelist and writer of children's books whose houseboat this was recorded on. In "Carry Me Carrie", Shel enacts the final tragic scene of Theodore Dreiser's classic novel "Sister Carrie". The title character is the beautiful and upwardly mobile Carrie who attracts a series of exploitative men and in turn exploits them to succeed, eventually becoming a star on Broadway. One of these men is Hurstwood, a businessman who sacrifices all he has to be with her: his wife, his family, his job and winds up a penniless drunk. This song dramatises a moment at his lowest point as a down and out, which sadly leads to him taking his own life. Which adds to the overwhelming feeling of sadness and poignant desperation in the song. And faith. Hurstwood's faith in Carrie, despite his situation, defying all reason, is fuelled by irrational obsessive love, something we can all understand, admit it or not.
His words are superb, starting with the rhetorical play on the words "carry" and "Carrie", whose tragic irony hurts with every repeat, and peaking with the compelling rhyme:
"...and then I heard him shoutin'
something 'bout a mountain
he would surely climb
if she was only there to point the right direction..."
The studio version's great too:
Have a listen and sing along to it - I've printed the words out in full. And don't forget to turn the volume right up at the end for that final piano chord, and jump around the room, screaming, "Carry me Carrie, c-c-c-c-Carrie, c-c-carry me!"
Second Street and Broadway sittin' in a doorway head held in his hands looked to all the world like he was praying foot wrapped in an old rag bottle in a brown bag I saw him try to stand then I heard the words that he was saying He said come on, Carrie carry me a little farther come on Carrie carry me one more mile I don't know where it's leading to but I know I can make it if I lean on you so come on Carrie carry me a little I carried you, now carry me a little come on Carrie, carry me a little while Well he struggled to his feet and staggered down the street to the window of a five and dime he stood and laughed a while at his reflection and then I heard him shoutin' something 'bout a mountain he could surely climb if she was only there to point the right direction but she ain't, no, but she ain't, no... He said come on, Carrie carry me a little farther come on, Carrie carry me one more mile I don't know where it's leading to but I know I can make it if I lean on you so
come on, Carrie carry me a little I carried you, now carry me a little come on, Carrie carry me a little while
Carry me Carrie