Whomst Among Us Let The Dogs Out

All kinds of songs get stuck in your head. Famous pop tunes from when you were a kid, album cuts you’ve listened to over and over again. And then there’s a category of memorable songs—the ones that we all just kind of know. Songs that somehow, without anyone’s permission, sneak their way into the collective unconscious and are now just lingering there for eternity. There’s one song that best exemplifies this phenomenon— “Who Let The Dogs Out” by the Baha Men.

The story of how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains goes back decades and spans continents. It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. About ten years ago, Ben Sisto was reading the Wikipedia entry for the song when he noticed something strange. A hairdresser in England named “Keith” was credited with giving the song to the Baha Men, but Keith had no last name and the fact had no citation. This mystery sent Ben down a rabbit hole to uncover the true story and eventually lead to a documentary about his decade-long quest called Who Let the Dogs Out.

“Keith”

The story begins in the year 2000 with the Baha Men’s hit. It was the band’s only international smash, and it gained popularity after being featured in “Rugrats in Paris: the Movie,” and gaining prominence as a sports anthem, played in arenas around the world. Pretty soon it was everywhere. 

The Baha Men are a multigenerational band from the Bahamas that have been playing together in one form or another since the 1970s. They’re known for a style of music called junkanoo. The group was signed by an a-and-r man named Steve Greenberg, who stayed with them across multiple labels and break-even releases. In the late-90s, Greenberg convinced the group to record “Who Let The Dogs Out,” but theirs was not the first version. The song was already a hit in the Bahamas, and the Baha Men were wary about recording a cover of a song that was widely known there.

Greenberg originally heard the song via a British producer who got his hair cut by a hairdresser named Keith Wainwright, as in “Keith” from the Wikipedia entry. Greenberg instantly knew there was something special about the song’s hook. When Greenberg looked up who wrote the hook, he discovered Anslem Douglas, a singer in the Bahamian music scene, who wanted to use his platform to write a feminist anthem, something that could be a rallying cry for women who were fed up with the “dogs,” or men behaving poorly on the dance floor.

Douglas’s version was actually called “Doggie,” and wasn’t credited to Douglas alone. His then brother-in-law was the host of a deejay mix show called Wreck Shop Radio out of Toronto, Canada, and that show’s producers included two men named Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams. Stephenson and Williams wrote promos and jingles for the show, and one of those jingles contained the phrase “who let the dogs out,” followed by the sound of barking. Without knowing too much about music rights, Stephenson and Williams made a deal with Douglas allowing him to publish the song, but they weren’t aware of the Baha Men version until they heard it on the radio.

Douglas ended up signing an affidavit asserting that Stephenson and Williams were the original authors of the hook, but there is even more to the story…

20 Fingers and Gillette

In 1994 a group called 20 Fingers and singer Gillette came out with a song called “You’re a Dog,” which featured barking in the hook, much like “Who Let the Dogs Out,” but with the lyrics “who let them dogs loose.” Stephenson and Williams claim to have never heard the song or anything about the group 20 Fingers, despite the similarities. 20 Fingers made no legal claim to the song.

Miami Boom

But Ben says this isn’t even the first version of the song. Brett Hammock and Joe Gonzalez were a rap duo called Miami Boom Productions out of Jacksonville, Florida, and wrote their own song called “Who Let the Dogs Out” in 1992. Much like Stephenson and Williams, Hammock and Gonzalez were shocked to hear something so close to their original track on the radio so many years later.

The Dog Patch

When Ben Sisto dug a little deeper, he discovered “Who Let The Dogs Out” may have an even older inspiration. Sisto was contacted by a man named John Michael Davis from Dowaigic, Michigan who informed him the lyric had its roots in his hometown, which is sometimes referred to as “the dog patch.” Davis says the term came from a high school football game where the hometown team, the Dowagiac Chieftains, threw a Hail Mary pass and people in the stadium began chanting, “Oooh, let the dogs out!” The Chieftains won that game, and soon became the state champions with this chant as their motto. 

Joe Gonzalez of Miami Boom doesn’t remember ever seeing the Chieftains play, but he says it’s not out of the question he heard the phrase growing up in Michigan. Even still, it turns out variations of a “who let the dogs out?” chant pop up in regional high school sports even earlier. Sisto was able to trace one all the way back to Austin Reagan High School in 1986, which sounds remarkably like the popular “Who Let The Dogs Out” we all know today.

We All Let The Dogs Out

Despite these conflicting claims about the origins of the song, Sisto says he believes the saga of Who Let the Dogs Out shows how art and creative work evolve over time. You can never truly know where an idea comes from, but perhaps that’s just the mystery of artistic production.

 

Credits

Production

This episode was produced by Ben Sisto and Chris Berube, with editing from Emmett FitzGerald. There is a documentary about Ben’s investigation, called “Who Let the Dogs Out” which is now available to stream on iTunes and Amazon. Special thanks to Brent Hodge, Aly Kelly and Jasleen Kaur at Hodgee Films for providing audio from their movie for this episode.

  1. U

    Such a great episode! It reminds me of Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” which also deconstructs the genesis of musical phrases, claiming that it’s always this way: everything is a remix of some previous idea.

  2. Sean Redmond

    So, if I make a film based on the Hero’s Tale starring 2 guys named Luke and Hans and I call it «Star Wars?», am I copying, being derivative or creating something new?

    1. Maggie

      The original Star Wars is so engrained in popular culture that it would be hard to argue that you’d never heard of it when you made your story. This combined with the fact that Disney’s lawyers are so powerful would make your case very shaky.

  3. Renee

    Great episode! You should check out The Decoder Ring podcast’s episode on the origins of Baby Shark if you haven’t done so already.

  4. Andrew Sleeth

    Undeniably, there is a strong, longstanding coalition of U.S. musicians intensely committed to canine liberty.

  5. Rob

    I loved this episode – with the exception of the first line, in which Roman Mars referred to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as a “song”. Seriously?! It’s bad enough that Spotify categorizes all music into “songs” for the convenience of its database structure – but I really hope that this doesn’t spill over into the way we talk about music.

  6. Dave

    You may want to listen to the beginning of Gondwanaland’s track ‘Danger’ from their 1986 album ‘Let the dog Out’. (just search on youtube) According to the liner notes on my 1988 CD, Danger was recorded live in 1985 in either Sydney or Alice Springs.
    However, the didgeridu player from the band, Charlie McMahon, did spend 1980 in California so we may not be able claim the hook as another OZ export.

    1. Neale

      Dave beat me to it, but i was going to point you to Gondwanaland’s Danger as well. There was any earlier version of Danger too (1983?) which doesn’t have the vocals.

      It was driving me crazy last night after listening to the episode ”Didn’t that one-armed didg player from the 80’s have a line like that, and who was that anyway?’ You can find the band on spotify a little surprisingly.

  7. Marianne

    Great episode. Growing up in Cleveland, I feel a bit of ownership with the song “Who let the dogs out.” All of Cleveland and the NFL would hear it from the Dawg Pound every week. When did that start? In 1985, in Kirtland OH at preseason training camp, Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon started barking when the defensive players made positive plays in camp. The fans caught on during the 1985-6 season and the Dawg Pound was born. Did they have a cheer like the one in Austin at that high school? I couldn’t find a video online – but, maybe!

  8. Evan M

    But Roman, does the documentary have a question mark in its title or not? You can’t leave us hanging! I feel like you missed a chance to tie the two parts of the show together at the end. :)

  9. Wait a minute, are you telling me that this incredibly misogynistic song, complaining about too many ugly women, has a feminist version? As a dog trainer, I’ve been plagued by this song at every public event and show, and I’ve hated it. But I could possibly reclaim it if there’s a version complaining about jerky men!

    1. RS

      If you listen to the lyrics, it is the women calling the men dogs in the Baha Men version too. None of the lyrics have anything to do with complaining about ugly women.

  10. Mark Savage

    There is one more step backward, although it goes back 450 years.
    “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war” from Julius Caesar “a phrase spoken by Mark Antony in Act 3, Scene 1, line 273”

    But you knew that didn’t you, Roman? You wrote the title in Elizabethan English.

  11. Talya Baker

    Loved this episode, but the phrase ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ isn’t a question, it’s a command.

    1. Walter

      I came here to say the same. The discussion reminded me of cashiers who say “May I help who’s next?”

  12. Neale

    Dave beat me to it, but i was going to point you to Gondwanaland’s Danger as well. There was any earlier version of Danger too (1983?) which doesn’t have the vocals.

    It was driving me crazy last night after listening to the episode ”Didn’t that one-armed didg player from the 80’s have a line like that, and who was that anyway?’ You can find the band on spotify a little surprisingly.

  13. Stoked people are into this story! Thank you for listening.

    The Gondwanaland note here is amazing. Though it sounds like “Let the dog out” as a command, and not a question; unless I am mishearing. There are other “Let the dog out” moments out there.

    For example, on the 1980 Jackson Mets baseball team there was a guy named Mike Howard who I believe got it going as a team motto.

    “Any time one of our guys comes up to bat in a crucial situation, we yell “Let the dog out.” from the dugout. “It just means let the dog out of the cage so it can run wild. It makes them relax so they can swing the bat,” said Howard, pausing to wipe a mixture of champagne and beer off his face.” (8/22/80, The Clarion Ledger)

  14. Matt

    The Third Conchord – Doggy Bounce Song by Flight of the Conchords

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Conchord

    “The Third Conchord” is the twelfth and final episode of the first season of the HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords. This episode first aired in the United States on Sunday, September 2, 2007.

    “Doggy Bounce”
    Only one new song appears in this episode and it is not, at least in a plot sense, a Conchords song. The Crazy Dogggz song “Doggy Bounce”, sung by Todd and Demetri, features somewhat childish lyrics set to a simple melody. The music video for it, which Bret and Jemaine watch on television, features Todd and Demitri in suits accompanied by four female dancers wearing doggy ears. It resembles very closely the “Macarena” music video by Los del Rio from 1996.[1] Murray’s English bulldog, Toby, also makes an appearance.

    In the next episode, the first episode of season two, we learn that Todd plagiarized this song from a Polish band.

  15. Christy Baker

    A quick thought: when the movie title does not have a question mark it turns the title into a description. For example, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is about the toon behind the murders (spoiler alert) and their motivation and method. Same with ‘what’ is eating Gilbert Grape: it’s angst and responsibility and so on… The movie is about naming and identifying the ‘what’ not questioning it. Alternatively, ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ Is about the absurdity of the question and the experience of looking for it. This works well with comedies. ‘Something About Mary’ could have been changed to ‘What’s Up With Mary?’ and it would have worked in all of its silly delirium.
    I was listening to the episode while painting a mural so now that my brushes are washed, I can throw in my two cents!
    Love the show!

  16. Martin

    Fantastic episode! It just shows that our beloved idea of the solitary genius author is bunk. Human creativity is always happening in a tree of influences, that’s what makes it evolve!

    +1 on the fact that “Guess who’s coming to dinner” is never a question. :)

  17. Jack Whalen

    This episode was especially insightful/revealing with respect to how culture (and the emergence and evolution of cultural phenomena/practices/memes/etc) really works. For a quite different yet very similar analysis of such things, and how songs/rhymes in particular emerge and develop — but here amongst young children — you should take look at the books of folklorists/anthropologists Iona and Peter Opie: ‘The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren’ and ‘Children’s Games in Street and Playground’. Here is how Iona Opie recounts the origins of what turned out to be decades of research by she and Peter (from the obituary of Iona in The Guardian, 2017): The publishing company that then employed Peter was exiled by the London blitz to Bedfordshire in 1943, and there the couple walked by a field of corn. Iona, who was pregnant, picked up a bug and recited ‘Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home / Your house is on fire and your children all gone’. It flew and they were ‘left wondering about this rhyme – what did it mean? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?’
    Sound familiar? :)

  18. Claire

    For your information Anslem Douglas who is mentioned in the article is actually from Trinidad not the Bahamas.

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