“Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook is a really sticky song; I always enjoy listening it, even so many year's after it has been released in 1971. It is a really unusual song! I always wondered if Sylvia Avery, her mother and the distressed boyfriend spending 30 cents more for each 3 minutes talking with Mrs. Avery were real persons? So, from where did the story of “Sylvia’s Mother” came from?
The singer calls former "lover" but ends up speaking to her mother. Sylvia’s mother tells the man that her daughter is leaving town to marry another man. She tells the man not to say anything to Sylvia, but as the song continues the singer realizes that Sylvia is there with her mother, preparing to leave. But apparently Sylvia does not know it is him on the phone. Dennis Locorriere provided this song's aching and "tragic" vocal, begging Mrs. Avery,..."I’ve just got to talk to her, I’ll only keep her a while.”
“Sylvia’s Mother” was written by Shel Silverstein for the first album of Dr. Hook to be releases as a single with his characteristic and very personal sense of humor and the song really sounds different. Silverstein is noted for writing Johnny Cash songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “25 Minutes to Go.” Perhaps he is even more well known for his drawings, poetry, and books, such as The Giving Tree.
“Sylvia’s Mother” initially bombed as a single when Dr. Hook released the self-titled album in 1971. But they had faith in the song, so instead of releasing another single, they released “Sylvia’s Mother” again as a single in July 1972. This time it was a hit. Silverstein eventually provided another hit to the band in 1973 with “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”
According to Silverstein, it's based it upon a true story from his own life: he had a girlfriend called Sylvia Pandolfi, but the relationships ended. Later, Silverstein, still in love, called her, but Pandolfi told him she was preparing to fly to Mexico to marry another man. The next day, Silverstein called again, talking to Sylvia’s mother, who reaffirmed to the distraught man that his relationship was finished.
There is video telling the real story behind “Sylvia’s Mother,” featuring both the real “Sylvia” and her mother. Arjan Vlakveld directed the short documentary.
The lead singer of “Sylvia’s Mother” Dennis Locorriere eventually saw the above video. While he knew Silverstein wrote the song based on a true story, seeing the video left him “speechless.” He eventually met the real Sylvia.
Other performers also recorded “Sylvia’s Mother”: Bobby Bare, Billy Bob Thornton, Bon Jovi and even a quite recent one in 2016 by The Refreshments, a band from Sweden,
Finally, one may wonder whatever happened to the singer and Sylvia’s mother. A British band, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, were also wondered what happened to the singer in the song... so, they released a new song called “Mrs. Avery.”
In their sequel, The Men They Couldn’t Hang tell the story of the singer calling Mrs. Avery years later after he has been married and divorced. The song appeared on the band’s 2009 album, Devil on the Wind.