Two sides to The Dog: Our top 10 dog songs
Dogs. Faithful, fun and loyal, they’ve long been man’s – nay, human’s – best friend. They fill the gaps in our lives, whether it’s as a childhood pet, “pre-kid” practice for professional young couples, or closing out the “house, car and 2.5 kids” dream.
Some dogs are so exceptional that they even have their own Wikipedia page. Case in point: Laddie Boy, the First Dog of the United States and loyal pet to the maligned 1920s-era president Warren G. Harding. (He’s also the subject of an episode of Something True, an excellent podcast series by independent American producer Idle Thumbs.)
I grew up with two dogs: a mild-mannered black and white Border Collie who lived for chasing, catching and mangling tennis balls (from which you’d have to shake off an exquisite coating of hot saliva before tossing the ball again); and a rather unpleasant Fox Terrier who spent much of his time in the crude kennel that dad fashioned for him, growling lowly whenever we called his name.
But while the word ‘dog’ continues to represent furry-coated fun, its alternate meaning has become prevalent in adults’ lexicon, particularly as mental health awareness has spiked in recent decades. Just as we’ve all had a pet dog or know someone with one, many are inflicted – or know someone inflicted – by the dog.
Think about how often you hear the term ‘black dog’ bandied about? beyondblue reports that on average, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety during their lives. The law of averages don’t lie: I’ve had my moments, as have many of my mates.
Below are 10 songs that represent both sides – the fun and the fear – of The Dog.
1. Hey Bulldog The Beatles
Paul’s “Martha My Dear” rates a mention but John trumps him, yet again, with this driving and playful rocker, so awesome that it almost makes Yellow Submarine worth buying.
2. Black Eyed Dog Nick Drake
Among the last songs the posthumously lauded British singer-songwriter recorded, “Black Eyed Dog”, with its bruised vocals and complex finger-picked guitar, again reminds the listener of the waste of talent gone at just 26 – one year younger than even Jim, Jimi, Janis and Kurt.
3. Black Dog Led Zeppelin
So named after a black Labrador retriever that lingered during the recording of this, the raucous opener to Led Zeppelin IV, it’s all about that riff, man.
4. Black Dog On My Shoulder Manic Street Preachers
The Welsh three-piece were among the ’90s most important bands, although this string-laden tune, buried near the foot of the commercial triumph that was This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, isn’t among their best-known. Depression is, indeed, the theme, but the track’s easy flow has a calmness aimed at unkinking – even temporarily – the dog-plagued.
5. Old King Neil Young
“This a song about my dog. His name is Elvis. Elvis is riding on Jimi Hendrix’s bus now. He travelled with me for many years. Well, I changed his name to ‘King’ in the song to avoid any confusion.” So Young told an adoring audience at LA’s Greek Theatre in 1992 as he premiered this stomping folk-rock number from Harvest Moon, the comparison-paling “sequel” to the classic album of 20 years prior, Harvest.
6. Diamond Dogs David Bowie
He’d retired Ziggy Stardust by 1974 but Ziggy’s slender fingers are all over this complex glam-rocker. Many will forever argue to the contrary – and with good reason – but this was possibly the Thin Duke at his weirdest and most devastating.
7. Dogs are the Best People The Fauves
This “hit” tune (it ranked No.20 in JJJ’s Hottest 100 of 1996) embodies all that is (was?) good about the super-cool Oz rockers. Self-deprecating, melodic, rocking, and, in highlighting the loyalty displayed by our canine brethren, sharply astute lyrically: “He never lied to me once / He never flaunted my trust…”
8. Walking the Dog Rufus Thomas
An upbeat slice of classic R&B with a tongue-wagging dog on its cover and references to children’s nursery rhymes, Thomas’ 1963 hit has taken on a life of its own since by virtue of being covered endlessly, most notably by the Stones on their brash 1964 debut.
9. Dog Days Are Over Florence & Machine
There’s something about that ukulele intro. Something happy. Sad. Or somewhere in between. Either way, it rouses you from whatever you were doing, in readiness for Florence Welch’s soaring vocal. Modern indie-pop perfection: an all-too-rare commodity.
10. Hound Dog Elvis Presley
Just had to make this list, didn’t it? An iconic tune that was one of 11 consecutive No.1 songs between 1956 and 1958 for Elvis in the States… and, to this scribe’s mind, the song behind the best scene from Forrest Gump.
As always with lists, there are plenty that don’t make the final cut. Special mentions to the following:
Dogs – Damian Rice
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
Dogs of War – Pink Floyd
I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges
Old Blue – The Byrds