Sunday, 18 May 2014

Top 10 Dogs in Song

 “Good dags. D’ya like dags?” 
This asked by the near unintelligible character Mickey, played by Brad Pitt in the movie Snatch. Dags, it turns out, is the gypsy pronunciation of dogs. Well, I happen to like dags. I like them a lot. As such, listed in no particular order are some songs that have in the title, are about, or otherwise make reference to those flea bitten, bed-hogging critters that we let into our lives.

1. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp – Led Zeppelin

Even if you could understand Welsh, a god-awful language characterized by too many y’s and not enough vowels, there is no hidden dog reference in the title. Bron-Y-Aur is a nod to a cottage in Wales where the Zep were doing some writing way back when.
Title aside, in Bron-y-aur stomp, Robert Plant does sing about walking through the countryside with his old Blue Merle Shepard, which I misheard for most of my formative Zeppelin years. I thought he was talking about a girl but it turns out it was a dang dog.  Blue eyed Merle is not a far stretch from blue eyed girl, so you forgive my fault. The long and short of the tale, no pun intended, is that in the world of heartbreak, apparently losing a dog hurts worse than losing a girl. Who knew the Golden God was such a softie?

“When you’re old and your eyes are dim, there ain’t no shep gonna happen again”

A lovely sit-down version from 1975.

2. Dog Days are Over – Florence and the Machine
I have no explanation as to why I love this song so much. Maybe it’s the harp or maybe its just because the video is really cool.  As for the dog days, those are supposed to be the hottest days of the year, characterized by inactivity or sluggishness.  As near as I can tell, Florence’s advice is that these heady days of summer are over and something bad is coming down the pipe.

“Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father, Run for your children, for your sisters and brothers.”

If you haven’t seen this video, it’s a feast for the eyes.

3. Old King – Neil Young

You have to guess that Neil would have a hound dog or two following him around amidst the vintage cars at his ranch. He’s just that kind of a guy, and so when he writes a song about a dog, you know it’s from the heart. Turns out, Old King was a real dog, but his name was Elvis.                                                
This from the Greek in LA, 9/22/92…

After a few warmup chords on the banjo just before Old King...
"This a song about my dog. His name is Elvis. Elvis is riding on Jimi Hendrix's bus now. He traveled with me for many years. Well, I changed his name to 'King' in the song to avoid any confusion.”     (transcript from – thanks!)

4. Black Eyed Dog – Nick Drake

Anything Nick Drake ever wrote is beautiful and usually chilling, with Black Eyed Dog being no exception. If you don’t know about Nick Drake, you are not alone. He died in 1974 after releasing three mostly unheard albums. There is no known video footage of him and he rarely performed live or even consented to be interviewed. His work is recognized now mostly because his song Pink Moon was featured in a VW commercial. He has become cool in a way that Wille Nelson or turntables are cool. We just never knew it before.

This song is 3 minutes and 28 seconds but it might haunt you forever…

5. Pink Floyd – Dogs

Dogs is a full 17 minutes which basically ate up the entire first side of the Animals release. The song is a comparison how human behavior in the cutthroat world of business is no more than that of dogs being beaten down by man. It’s a bit of downer even by Pink Floyd standards, but as with much of their other stuff, never seems to grow old. Possibly this is because of all the crazy chord changes and weird key signatures. Or maybe it’s the intense flashbacks it triggers that are keeping me entertained.
Also of special note, Dogs is featured in agreat scene from WKRP with Dr. Johnny Fever and Arthur Carlson.

6. Spine of a Dog – Moe

Moe is not known for writing songs with strong lyrical content. What they do best is play with such ferocity that their songs could be about boiled potatoes and they would still be mesmerizing. Spine of a Dog has absolutely nothing to do with dogs, and as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with anything actually. Well…except potatoes and pinball machines. Nonsense lyrics are a vehicle to showcase the jamming talents of these boys from Buffalo.

This version transitions into another song at about 9 minutes, if your head hasn't exploded by then.

7. Black Dog – Led Zeppelin

Legend has it that a black dog kept wandering into the studio during the recording session. There is a 1972 bootleg with the following story told by Plant. (It must be true because I read it on Wikipedia)
“Let me tell you 'bout this poor old dog because he was a retriever in his early days, and the only thing he could ever find in his late days was his old lady who lived two houses away from where we were recording. And he used to go see the old lady quite regularly, but after he'd "boogied" and everything else he couldn't get back. And we used to carry him back.”
I’m trying not to have a man crush on Robert Plant with his ridiculous blouse and truck stop belt buckle, but damn…

8. Hound Dog – Elvis

Hey Elvis, why are you so down on hound dogs? My neighbors had a hound dog, and he was not cryin’ all the time. He was only cryin’ when he was tied up outside in inclement weather.  Hound Dog is a straight up 12 bar blues song written by the exemplary team of Leiber and Stoller, and when placed in the hands of the King, became one of the greatest Rock and Roll songs of all time.  There’s nothing to it really. Two short verses, where the words are mostly repeated, and what passes for a chorus is “You ain’t  never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.” Lesson to aspiring song writers. Keep it simple, and get an Elvis type of icon to record your song.

I think we’ll go with skinny Elvis on this one. Bonus tracks -Love Me Tender and Heartbreak Hotel.

9. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie

As a young lad, on numerous occasions I had the Bowie - Changes One record sleeve out, reading the words to Diamond Dogs, but to this day the meaning remains elusive to me. I ‘ve heard the song a thousand times and as near as I can tell, he is talking about a half man, half beast creatures that prowl the streets of New York City. Dogs or no dogs, it’s a great song. Let’s leave it at that.

Below, some typical 1970’s Bowie weirdness, and some cool rehearsal footage.

10. I Love My Dog – Cat Stevens

Interestingly, this was the first song ever released by Cat Stevens. It’s slightly corny like one of those inspirational posters you see in the guidance counselor’s office that has puppies in a basket, and one puppy is clinging to the side and it says “hang in there”. 
The Cat says, “you may fade, but my dog will always come through”, clearly summing up the sentiment of the whole piece, meaning in a contest of companions, the one who showers you with unbridled love and affection will always win out over the one who comes home drunk, smelling like a Parisian brothel. We love our dogs and they love us back, twice as hard.