In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Our favorite songs featuring unusual instruments.
The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (1969)
In his ’70s heyday, Iggy Pop of The Stooges was arguably the most unyielding of the proto-punk provocateurs, reveling in boundary-pushing stage stunts like rolling around in shards of broken glass, smearing his half-nude body with peanut butter, and regurgitating mid-show. But none of Pop’s crowd-needling antics on stage could live up to the shocking transgression The Stooges recorded in the studio well before he started earning his infamy. The Stooges’ eponymous debut album was produced by John Cale of The Velvet Underground, who is credited with adding the left-field instrumentation that makes “I Wanna Be Your Dog” much more than a scuzzy, salacious lust song. Cale cuts through the distorted guitars with an insistent one-note piano melody, which would be a stroke of genius on its own. The real coup is Cale’s use of sleigh bells, which are used in punk songs about as often as carolers smear themselves with peanut butter while singing “Good King Wenceslas.”
Howard Stern interviewed Pop on his radio show in 1990, and asked about the confrontational lyrics. “When you say you wanna be a dog… what does that mean?” said Stern. “You’re saying that to a girl?” Pop piped in with the clarification that he wants to be your dog, then explained that the song means exactly what it sounds like. “It’s the idea of like, I want to unite with your body. I don’t want to talk about literature with you. I don’t want to judge you as a person. I wanna dog you.” That clarification actually makes the song much less interesting by stripping out the submission: Dogging someone and being their dog are two completely different things. But no matter who’s being dogged in the lyrics, it’s a song about sexual yearning, a subject that doesn’t usually evoke the sound of sleigh bells. The bells lend the song an uncomfortable, disorienting quality; paired with the piano, they make the song more obsessive and insistent. Iggy really wants to be your dog. Or he really wants to dog you. But what he clearly doesn’t want to do is the usual stuff associated with sleigh bells, like dashing through the snow.