An old joke says that when a country song is played backward, something other than Satanic messages can be heard. You know, the singer getting back his dog, his wife and everything else typically lost in country lyrics. This notion comes from the number of songs that glorify an ole country boy's dog, the one friend guaranteed to stick around after his woman packs up and leaves. These tales of morality sometimes become tales of mortality, where the dog will pass away by song's end.
Dog songs, capturing both this scenario and a child's love for a pet, rank high among the most tried and trued forms of country storytelling. I love my dog more than most people so I'm a big fan of this list which spans from the birth of commercial country music to modern times, showing that these stories have resonated with audiences for over 80 years.
We've gathered up some best songs for all you dog lovers outside of "Hound Dog", "Who Let the Dogs Out", "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" by the Monkees or "Martha My Dear" by the Beatles. (although I am a fan of Neil Young's "Old King.")
"Doghouse Blues" by Bill Monroe
The father of bluegrass didn't invent country song analogies about dogs. He just made them timeless, when a turn of phrase about being as down and out as an old hound became memorable with a few high-pitched howls.
"Old Shep" by Red Foley
This tale of a little boy's bond with his dog, and the grief that comes with losing a pet was a childhood favorite of Elvis Presley. It remains a high water mark in the history of reminiscent country songs about child-like love and loss.
"Move It On Over" by Hank Williams
Williams' biggest gift to both country and modern-day blues takes the idea of being "in the dog house" literally. Williams, the big dog, needs a place to sleep, which is why the actual dog in the song needs to scoot over.
"Old Rattler" by Grandpa Jones
"Old Rattler," performed here by Grandpa Jones and popularized by the Stanley Brothers, is another example of how old-time country and bluegrass pickers used dogs to paint a picture of long-gone rural living.
"Cracker Jack" by Dolly Parton
Man's best friend warms a young woman's heart in this early Dolly Parton tale of childhood wonder and canine bonding. "We had a lot in common and we had a lot of fun" sings Parton of her long-lost pooch.
"Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton
Sometimes, these heartwarming tales about man's best friend just need the right singer. An early Blake Shelton hit from his era of long hair and cowboy hats furthered the cultural impact of a song already recorded by the great George Jones and Kenny Rogers.
"The More Boys I Meet" by Carrie Underwood
Dogs being trustworthy no matter what makes them the opposite of the average first date experience. Underwood approaches this in modern terms, reckoning that her dogs seem more cultured after dinner with Mr. Wrong.
"Like My Dog" by Billy Currington
Dogs accept owners as they are, warts and all. Currington pokes fun at demanding spouses and girlfriends, claiming that an ideal relationship hinges on a woman turning a blind eye to behaviors his dog ignores.
"Little Boys Grow Up and Dogs Get Old" by Luke Bryan
Bryan modernized the "Old Shep" formula, telling of childhood best pal Bandit. The boy and his dog had numerous adventures that seemingly would never end. Sadly, Bryan's lead character leaves home to begin a new life right as his dog reaches his twilight years.
"It's Just a Dog" by Mo Pitney
The pattern of dogs representing riding buddies in good times and comforters when life goes sour continued in 2016 with Pitney's ode to a lost friend. It shows Pitney's grasp of old-time country music storytelling and proves that this same old story still tugs at listeners' heartstrings.
This post was originally published on January 19, 2018.