Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Five songs about pets

I couldn't find any new music worth writing about today, so here are five songs written about a pet dog or cat. I don't know why.

1) The Beatles - Martha, My Dear
Yes, famous vegetarian Paul McCartney loves animals. Who'd have thought?

On the surface, Martha, My Dear sounds like a love song, and many have presumed it was written for McCartney's then-girlfriend Jane Asher and her wonderful party cakes. But no. Sir Fab Macca wrote it for a sheepdog, Martha, who was his first ever pet. Here he is banging on about it:

"She was a dear pet of mine. I remember John being amazed to see me being so loving to an animal. He said, 'I've never seen you like that before.' I've since thought, you know, he wouldn't have. It's only when you're cuddling around with a dog that you're in that mode, and she was a very cuddly dog."

Noted Beatles' scholar Ian MacDonald said of Martha, My Dear: "Scintillatingly gifted as this song is, it's also virtually devoid of meaning." Ouch.

2) Queen - Delilah
Legend has it that Freddy Mercury wrote "You're My Best Friend" about his pet dog. The problem is that bassist John Deacon wrote that song, and he's said on several occasions it was about his wife Veronica Tetzlaff (mind you, you would say that, wouldn't you?)

But Queen did have a song about a cat - Delilah. Peculiar even for them, this album track from the Innuendo sessions was a tribute to Freddy Mercury's favourite pet, a tortoise-shell tabby. It contains the memorable couplet: "You make me slightly mad /
When you pee all over my Chippendale suite

Roger Taylor hated it.

3) Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
OK, not strictly about a pet - but about the first canine cosmonaut, a stray dog called Laika.

"It's a great story about a dog being the first living creature in space," Win Butler told Minneapolis magazine The Pulse. "Doing this spectacular thing, but not having food and watching itself fall back into the earth."

The dog's intergalactic journey is also (apparently) a metaphor for the life of Alexander Supertramp - the man whose journey into solitude in the Alaskan wilderness was told in Sean Penn's film Into The Wild.

4) Norah Jones - Man Of The Hour
This is by far my favourite song on the list. Jones' boyfriend has given her an "it's him or me" ultimatum - and she chooses her pet dog, as any sensible woman would.

The meaning of the song becomes clearer as the song goes on - eventually making sense of the slightly barmy first verse.

I can't choose
Between a vegan and a pot head
So I chose you, because you're sweet
And you give me lots of lovin'
And you eat meat

You might think that's Norah's pet dog sitting next to her on the cover of The Fall (see right) but it's not. It's a stunt dog, called Ben, who was brought in by the photographer. Talk about betrayal.

5) Henry Gross - Shannon
I'm ending with a weepie. Shannon was written about the death of Beach Boy star Carl Wilson's Irish Setter. Awwww.

The story goes that Henry met Carl on tour in 1975, and they got to talking about dogs. Henry mentioned his wife's pet, Shannon, "an uncannily human dog whose ability to manipulate her human counterparts cannot be understated". To his surprise, Carl nearly burst into tears - having recently lost an Irish Setter of the same name in a car accident.

Back at home, with his pet dog on his lap, Henry wrote the song while imagining "the indescribable sadness that losing such a beloved partner" must cause. Played in a pseudo-Beach Boys style, Henry had hoped to have Carl sing backing vocals, but scheduling conflicts meant it was not to be.

Either way, the treacly, mawkish ballad shot to number one in the US and is played at uncomfortably sentimental pet funerals to this day.

Warning: The following video will either bring a lump to your throat or make you do a sick in your tea cup.

So, that's my lot... Any other suggestions? NB: Michael Jackson's Ben was actually written for a film, not a pet rat, and Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars (sadly) isn't about pretending you're a dog.

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