It’s February and reminders of Valentine’s Day are everywhere. Sure, having that special someone is nice, but when times get bad, the only one who will always stand by you is your dog. So we’re going to pay tribute to them this month. There was quite a library of songs to choose from, so we narrowed the field down solely to songs about actual canines and the folks who love ‘em. Unfortunately this left great songs like “I’m Walking the Dog” and “Salty Dog Blues” off the list, but hopefully you and your four-legged pals will enjoy it anyway.
Honorable Mentions: Burl Ives – “I Found My Best Friend in the Dog Pound”; Crossin’ Dixon – “I Love My Old Bird Dog (And I Love You Too)”; Dave Dudley – “George (And the North Woods)”; Hoosier Hot Shots – “Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”; Hoyt Axton – “Della and the Dealer”; Merle Haggard – “Seeing Eye Dog”; Neil Young – “Old King.”
A sweet, slow fiddle tune for your favorite sleepy pup. If you just can’t get enough folky canine lullabies, the Tanyas recorded “Dogsong 2″ for 2003’s Chinatown., but it’s kind of a bummer. Spoiler alert: the dog dies. It is sad.
19. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” – Freddy Fender
Fender recorded the popular novelty song—with both English and Spanish verses, of course—for 1975’s Are You Ready For Freddy? The dog is to protect his sweetheart from “robbers with flashlights that shine in the dark.” Either that’s a euphemism or those are the most unthreatening robbers ever.
There’s nothing like the company of some people to make a man realize how much he likes his dog, says Burgess. That’s nice and all, but the real treat in this song is Burgess’s nonchalant delivery of the lyric “just last week I got carjacked,” an annoyance that’s apparently on the same level as a jerky boss and a non-country-music-loving brother.
Here’s another weeper from the fella who brought us “Teddy Bear.” A trucker and the pup who rides shotgun—and talks on the CB radio—are the best of friends. When the pair get into an accident and the trucker loses his sight, it’s Little Joe who pulls him from the burning wreck, and later becomes his seeing eye dog. “Little Joe” topped out at #45 in 1976 and was Sovine’s last big hit.
Old Rattler’s a blind dog, and possibly the nicest one on earth: rather than kill a raccoon, the two stroll off in the moonlight, paw in paw. If you like this silly banjo tune, be sure to check out the sequel, “Old Rattler’s Son.”
The catchiest song on this month’s list is courtesy of Rocky Toppers Sonny and Bobby. Here the bluegrass brothers sing about a dog who may look like “ugly warmed over,” but when a girl dog comes around, the Tennessee hound is transformed into a “dynamite, uptight, outta sight backyard Romeo.”
Dink Roberts was an African-American oldtime banjo player out of North Carolina. But if his music isn’t to your liking, Tom Russell, The Byrds, The Dillards, Pete Seeger, and more all have recorded their own different takes on this traditional song and a good dog named Blue.
This song has one very famous fan in Stephen King, who thinks it’s one of the three best rock n roll songs ever. While we may not love “Gimme Back My Dog” that much, we still like it—and Slobberbone—a whole lot.
Cash ain’t so fond of this dog, who prowls around the henhouse and kills his chickens. Now he’s not a bad guy, but if this dog doesn’t stop pushing his luck, he’ll get sent to “that great chicken house in the sky.”
6. “I’ll Take The Dog” – Jean Shepard and Ray Pillow
A divorced couple straight from the courthouse are dividing up their possessions, but can’t agree on who gets custody of the dog. So instead they decide to get back together. This duet cracked the Top 10 in 1966, making it Pillow’s highest charting single.
George Jones recorded “Ol’ Red” first (in 1990), but never released it as a single. Shelton’s version hit #14. Note to prison wardens: letting inmates—especially those doing time for murder—take care of your prisoner-tracking dog is probably a bad idea.
There are only three things worth a time in this world, says this classic song: kids, booze, and man’s best friend. Hall must be pretty fond of dogs; in addition to this song and “George (And the North Woods),” he also penned “Chattanooga Dog.”
Should cattin’ around land you squarely in the doghouse, your loyal pup will share his digs. It might take a little forcing, but he’ll share. This classic was Williams’ first hit (it went to #4 in 1947), and it’s been covered by everyone from Ray Charles to George Thorogood.
“Old Shep” ranks right up there with “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the saddest song ever. If this story about a boy forced to shoot his elderly, beloved dog doesn’t make you tear up, chances are you have no soul.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.