I just recently finished reading a great new book from former Winnipegger Alissa York. It’s called Fauna and, amongst other things, it’s a book about animals and our connection to them. Whether we see them as pets, help(er) (monkeys), a food source, raw material for clothing (leather comes from cows, y’know), decorative items (ivory from elephants) or even an aphrodisiac (tiger penis?), animals have a long and complicated relationship with humans. They’ve also been a source of inspiration for musicians over the years and so this edition of “Essentially A Playlist” presents “fun with fauna.”
B-52’s — “Rock Lobster” [from B-52’s]
Any Seinfeld fans out there? I’d say one of my all-time favourite episodes is the one where Kramer finds the commercial lobsterman’s line and reels it in, taking the catch back for a big dinner at his friends’ house in the Hamptons. Breathtaking babies, shrinkage in the water — that one has it all. What does this have to do with the B-52’s? Nothing, but what does a lobster have to do with rock music?
Warren Zevon — “Gorilla, You’re A Desperado” [from Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School]
There’s a reason Zevon was among David Letterman’s favourite guests — his darkly humorous songs tapped into the same vein of “comedy” as Dave. On “Gorilla . . . ” the titular ape escapes from the city zoo and takes the life of the man he’s left in the cage in his stead. Trouble ensues, away from the zoo.
Simon & Garfunkel — “At The Zoo” [from Definitive Simon & Garfunkel]
Speaking of the zoo, here’s one of my favourite animal related tunes. It’s a sprightly number about heading down to the zoo to visit the animals because “it’s all happening at the zoo.” While I totally agree that “pigeons plot in secrecy,” I’m not ready to accept that “giraffes are insincere.”
America — “A Horse With No Name” [from History: America’s Greatest Hits]
Yup. Another song from History. After my tribute to highways and byways with “Ventura Highway,” America is back with the greatest Neil Young song Young never wrote (seriously, how many people first thought it was Shakey when they first heard this?). According to songfacts.com, the band claims the horse in the title isn’t slang for heroin, but no word on if it’s actually about a game of hoops.
Iggy & The Stooges — “I Wanna Be Your Dog” [from Jesus Loves The Stooges]
Iggy Pop basically debases himself for love in this song and offers to be his woman’s dog. It’s a fairly unflattering portrait of desperate love and an unfortunate comparison to man’s best friend.
Elvis Presley — “Hound Dog” [from Elvis The King: Complete Singles]
Seriously, what is it with songwriters and dogs? We’re talking about animals that love you unconditionally, clean up any food you happen to drop and want nothing more than a little affection and some exercise. Here’s another in a long line of dog songs that don’t exactly show the love for canine-kind.
The Coral — “Monkey To The Moon” [from Singles Collection]
While Laika, the Russian dog, was the first animal in space, Albert II became the first monkey in space on June 14, 1949 (Albert I suffocated during an earlier flight on June 11, 1948). All told, there were four Alberts, three of which were rhesus monkeys while the fourth was a macaque. Whenever you think about mankind’s “giant leap,” take a moment to remember the animals that were thrown in front of us in crossing the void.
Bruce Hornsby — “Prairie Dog Town” [from Levitate]
Alongside The Noise Makers, the group he’s totally cheating on The Range with, Hornsby has recorded what may be a veiled commentary against “groupthink” or a nightmare scenario where prairie dogs are vicious killers. Having spent some time watching the prairie dogs at the Winnipeg Zoo, I’m going to go with the former — I just don’t think those little cuties are bloodthirsty.
Petula Clark — “The Cat In The Window (The Bird In The Sky)” [from Most Of Petula Clark]
While the only folks writing about dogs have got them all wrong, apparently cat people know how to write a nice tribute song. In this one, the woman best know for going downtown empathizes with a cat looking longingly out a window, “watching all the birds go passing by / he’d love to fly out the window.” Of course, both the song’s protagonist and the cat are ultimately stuck looking out their respective windows so maybe the real dog lovers are writing double-edged cat tribute songs.
Rufus Thomas — “Walkin’ The Dog” [from Memphis Soul Classics]
This was one of Thomas’s biggest hits, and like Archie Bell & The Drell’s “(Do The) Tighten Up” from around that time, “Walkin’ The Dog” is a dance song that’s actually the name of a dance. The original “Walking The Dog” song and dance was written by jazz artist Shelton Brooks, a Canadian who was born in Amherstburg, near Windsor. Brooks moved to the U.S. with his family in 1901, and after a time as a vaudeville comedian, he became a songwriter and wrote his dog ditty in 1916.
Contest time! If you want to win an autographed copy of Alissa York’s Fauna, head down to the Manitoban offices and tell us what Canada’s official animal is.