For over 50 years, Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Uncle Shelby's Zoo, A Light in The Attic and The Missing Piece have been popular children's books among parents and educators. The cartoonist, playwright, and Playboy contributor also penned songs recorded by Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Bobby Bare, and others.
Like fellow Chicago native Steve Goodman, Silverstein (Sept. 25, 1930-May 10, 1999) had a quirky and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor that suited country songs. His crowning achievement and a perfect example of his sarcastic realism was Cash's unlikely Grammy-winning hit "A Boy Named Sue." Other songs written or co-written by Silverstein were recorded by Cash ("25 Minutes to Go," "Boa Constrictor"), Lynn ("One's on the Way," "Hey Loretta"), Emmylou Harris ("Queen of the Silver Dollar"), Waylon Jennings (the Kris Kristofferson co-write "The Taker")," Tompall Glaser ("Put Another Log on the Fire") and other Nashville stars. Bare got the most mileage out of the writer's quirky material, cutting songs like "Marie Laveau" and "The Mermaid." In 2010, Bobby Bare Jr. and his famous father teamed up for the Silverstein tribute album Twistable, Turnable Man.
Read More: Songwriter Spotlight: Shel Silverstein
He also wrote several songs recorded by the American rock band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, including their signature hit "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," as well as "Sylvia's Mother," "The Things I Didn't Say" and "Freakin' at the Freakers Ball." Buck Owens and the Buckaroos had a little good-natured fun at Silverstein's expense with the parody song "The Cover of The Music City News." Elsewhere in the musical world, folk group The Irish Rovers found success with another Silverstein original, "The Unicorn."
The soft-spoken Silverstein recorded his own music, beginning with the relatively serious Hairy Jazz (1959) and including the soundtrack to the 1970 Mick Jagger film Ned Kelly. Some of the best songs to his credit took a lighter tone and gained a following on the Dr. Demento Show. These include the pot-smoking songs "The Smoke-Off" and "I Got Stoned and I Missed It" and nude beach parody song "Show It At The Beach."
This post was originally published on September 25, 2018.