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
A dog who dances like Fred Astaire in the moonlight, revels in a Germanic background and boasts about a Houdini-like ability to escape, Dixie may be tiny, but she’s proud. Or is it “he”? Peter Himmelman will only say that “Dixie is a very soulful animal, able to find joy in the minutiae of life.”
A composite of a several Dachshunds Himmelman has known, “Dixie” trots along with nimble phrasing, “mimicking a dog’s thought patterns.” Though it was released online only, it’s one of Himmelman’s most-requested live songs.
“When I perform it, I really feel dog-like,” Himmelman confesses. “Like this small, brown, coarse-haired dog who’s very sharp, very observant. I’m channeling what this dog might be seeing and thinking.”
When he’s not method acting, Himmelman makes music for both adults and children (the Grammy-nominated kids’ album My Green Kite is his latest), and scores the TV shows Men in Trees and Bones. He’s penned two other canine-inspired tunes, “Willa” and “Theo,” but it’s “Dixie” that touches the underdog in all of us. “It’s a song for everyone who feels like they’re not as good as other people,” Himmelman says.
Composed by Neil Finn
Recorded by Neil Finn
“It was written in honor of our family dog,” New Zealander Neil Finn says. “Lester was a Dalmatian, and when he was a year old, he was hit by a car. He nearly didn’t make it. I got home from the vet’s that day and wrote this song.”
In this plaintive acoustic ballad, which is featured on Afterglow, a Crowded House rarities collection, Finn promises to be a better person if Lester is allowed to live, while expressing thanks for the dog’s “good luck and strong bones inside and behind him.”
Finn wrote with such compassion that his producer, Mitchell Froom, mistook Lester for a human. “I didn’t tell him it was about my dog, and he thought I was talking about my manservant,” Finn says with a chuckle. Lester went on to star in several Crowded House and Finn Brothers videos, and was reportedly the inspiration for another Finn song, “Black and White Boy.”
Gimme Back My Dog
Composed by Brent Best
Recorded by Slobberbone