15 Classic Songs About Dogs

Joan Baez/The Byrds, “Old Blue”

Both Joan Baez and The Byrds seem to have derived their versions of this pre-twentieth century folk song from Cisco Houston’s 1951 recording. Roger McGuinn added some chord changes to create probably the best-known version of this moving tribute to “you good dog, you,” released on Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde in 1969.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”

The chorus of “The Promised Land” from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town says it all: “The dogs on Main Street howl ‘cause they understand if I could take one moment into my hands, Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man, and I believe in a Promised Land.” Dogs live in the moment, the Boss seems to imply, and they believe in themselves and in us.

Bob Dylan, “One Too Many Mornings”

Originally recorded for 1964’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, the version of “One Too Many Mornings” that Bob Dylan played with The Band during the “Royal Albert Hall” concert in Manchester in 1966 reimagines, and possibly even eclipses, the older folk version. The first line, “down the street the dogs are barking,” sets the stage for Dylan’s weary recognition that “you’re right from your side and I’m right from mine. We’re both just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind.”

Dolly Parton, “Gypsy, Joe, and Me”

Released in 1969 on My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy, “Gypsy, Joe, and Me” is the reminiscence of a woman who lost first her dog, Gypsy, and then her man, Joe, to tragic circumstances. The song ends with the woman standing on a bridge contemplating jumping: “Tonight we’ll be together again, Gypsy, Joe, and me.”

The Grateful Dead, “Tennessee Jed”

First officially released on the masterful Europe ’72, “Tennessee Jed” is about a hapless wanderer who keeps running into trouble, from “cold iron shackles” to a “rich man” who “step on my poor head” to a guy named “Charlie Fog” who “blacked my eye and he kicked my dog.” Reiterating a message communicated via conversation, letter, and slot-machine, “my dog he turned to me and he said: ‘Let’s head back to Tennessee, Jed.’”

The Wailers/Peter Tosh, “Maga Dog”

An early Wailers track by Peter Tosh with a strikingly similar introduction to “Simmer Down,” Tosh recorded a definitive version of the song for 1983’s Mama Africa. A “maga dog” is a skinny (“meagre”) dog who “turn around and bite you,” apparently a metaphor for a young lady who has done the singer wrong and is duly dismissed: “Me no wan’ fe see you ‘round here.”

Hank Williams, “Move It On Over”

“Move It On Over” was Hank Williams’ first major hit in 1947 about being kicked out by his woman and moving into a “mighty small” “doghouse” with his buddy. At the end of each verse, he tells his friend to “move over little/skinny/old/nice/short/good/cold dog ‘cause the big/fat/new/bad/tall/mad/hot dog’s movin’ in.”

Leon Russell, “The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen”

Recorded for 1971’s Leon Russell and the Shelter People, this nostalgic, quirky piano ballad is a memoir of Russell’s tour in 1970 as the band leader for Joe Cocker, memorialized in a 1970 album and a 1971 film, both called Mad Dogs and Englishmen. One of the largest and best bands in the history of rock and roll, Russell calls the tour “a hippy commune bona fide” full of “kids,” “flashy pimps,” “family fights,” “movie makers,” “booby shakers,” “’saxy’ airplane ticket takers,” “teachers and learners,” “incense burners,” “religious leaders and chronic bleeders,” “Okies,” “Limeys,” “Stones and future Dominoes,” “mad dogs and Englishmen.” Quite a cast of characters.

The Beatles, “Hey Bulldog”

Released on 1969’s Yellow Submarine, “Hey Bulldog” boasts one of the Beatles’ best riffs, John Lennon’s patented lyrical mix of nonsense, wisdom, and vitriol, one of George Harrison’s most ecstatic solos, a tremendous bass line from Paul McCartney, and wild barking and howling from the boys, adding up to one of the Beatles’ most raucous tracks: “You think you know me but you haven’t got a clue.”

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