Sure, the cat has sparked songs such as “The Cat Came Back” and “Stray Cat Strut.” And the horse has had his moments, from “Tennessee Stud” to “Wildfire.” Even the rat crept into the charts with Michael Jackson’s “Ben.” But for decades-spanning musical inspiration—from “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” to “Atomic Dog” and “Death of a Martian”—the dog is number one.
In our first look at dogs and popular music (“Pop Goes the Dog,” Feb. ’08), we sniffed out 10 classics from the 1950s to the 1970s. In this sequel, we dig up some treasures from the post-punk and contemporary eras. Reflecting the openness and candor of music in recent decades, many of these tunes go deeper than mere canine tributes. From the Stanislavski-like explorations of a pooch’s psyche to the dynamics of sexual attraction between dogs, here are the stories behind 10 modern all-breed favorites.
Composed by George Clinton
Performed by Parliament–Funkadelic
“Harmonic dogs, house dogs, street dogs … dogs of the world unite!” begins this supremely funky ode to the link between dog and man.
“I needed that heavy vibe,” George Clinton once said, “and I knew that the dog was the king of vibe from the old days of Rufus Thomas [“Walking the Dog”]. But I think ‘atomic’ had more to do with it than ‘dog.’ It was all this computer-age stuff and high technology. I wanted to get the two vibes, one futuristic and the other primal. That seems to be what the magic in the song is—that technology in the synthesizer, then that raw vibe of the woof. ‘I’m chasing the cat’ and lines like that, I was just doing that symbolically, like chasing a woman or whatever—those instinctive things, the automatic muscles.”
The song was later sampled by Snoop Dogg in his 1993 hit, “Who Am I (What’s My Name?)”
Composed by Tom Waits
Recorded by Tom Waits
What’s a rain dog? Tom Waits has an idea: “You know, dogs in the rain lose their way back home. They even seem to look up at you and ask if you can help them get back home. Because after it rains, every place they peed on has been washed out. It’s like “Mission Impossible.” They go to sleep thinking the world is one way and they wake up and somebody moved the furniture.”
Waits, once a vagabond who made fleabag hotels his home, identifies with these hounds, singing: “Taxi, we’d rather walk, huddle in a doorway with the rain dogs/For I am a rain dog too.”
Not only has Waits put canine themes to work on other songs—“Dog Door” and “Puttin’ on the Dog”—but as he once mused, “My career is like a dog. Sometimes it comes when you call. Sometimes it gets up in your lap. Sometimes it rolls over. Sometimes it just won’t do anything.”
Composed by John Linnell and John Flansburgh
Recorded by They Might Be Giants
While researching the digestive system back in the early 1900s, Russian physician Ivan Pavlov discovered that he could condition dogs to salivate by announcing meals with some external stimuli—a whistle, a metronome and, most famously, a bell.
A heady subject for a pop song? Not in the hands of the quirky Brooklyn duo They Might Be Giants, who honored Pavlov’s pooch in “Dinner Bell.” With its bouncy counterpoint vocals pitting “salivating dog” against a list of victuals (chowder, egg, garlic bread), the song transcends its humorous tone to address the modern human dilemma of having too many choices.
“We’ve often had this problem of people considering our songs to be novelties or jokes,” Linnell observes. “To us, our songs are very meaningful, and the whole point is that they’re saying something. But they sometimes have the structure of a joke. Part of the effect is that it lightens the song up so it’s not pretentious.”
Classical conditioning never sounded so fun.
Dixie the Tiny Dog
Composed by Peter Himmelman
Recorded by Peter Himmelman