Whether as hellhounds or loyal companions, canines have been part of our lives for thousands of years. Grant Maxwell, the author of How Does It Feel?: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Philosophy of Rock and Roll put together this list of 15 memorable songs about dogs. Think of these tunes as a music lover’s best friend.
Big Mama Thornton/Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog”
Big Mama Thornton first recorded this Lieber-Stoller song in 1952. Elvis Presley got the song from Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, who had rewritten the words, and it went on to become the biggest hit of Presley’s career: “You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
Nick Drake, “Black Eyed Dog”
A haunting soliloquy from Nick Drake’s final recording session in 1974, the “Black Eyed Dog” is apparently a symbol of the darkness that led to Drake’s death later that year at the age of 26: “I’m growing old and I wanna go home.”
Waylon Jennings, “Waymore’s Blues”
“Waymore’s Blues” from 1975’s Dreaming My Dreams is Waylon Jennings at his laid-back best, dropping pearls of wisdom like “wanna get the rabbit out the L-O-G, you gotta make a commotion like a D-O-G,” and summing up Waylon’s persona: “I got my name painted on my shirt, I ain’t no ordinary dude, I don’t have to work.”
The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
This menacing piece of proto-punk from The Stooges’ first album, released in 1969, expresses the urge of a “messed up” youth to submit to another unspecified individual in order to “close my eyes,” “close my mind,” “feel your hands,” and “lose my heart on the burning sand.”
Rufus Thomas, “Walking the Dog”
A simple lyric about a presumably attractive woman “dressed in black” taking her dog for a walk interspersed with nonsense and nursery rhymes, “Walking the Dog,” released by the Stax label in 1963, was Rufus Thomas’ biggest hit. What makes this song so good is Thomas’ gritty vocal and the incredible groove laid down by Booker T & the MGs who, along with The Band, are possibly the greatest self-contained backing group of all time.
Neil Young, “Old King”
Neil Young gives an appropriately country-flavored eulogy to “the best old hound dog I ever did know” in this song from 1992’s Harvest Moon: “Old King sure meant a lot to me, but that hound dog is history.”