Whomst Among Us Let The Dogs Out

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
On any given day there are a few different kinds of songs rattling around in my head. Some are just classics, like literal classics (classical music plays). Then there are songs that are just in there that are my own favorites, songs that have carved out a space in my brain because I listened to them over and over and over.

[Audio clip of ‘Solidarity’ by Scream]

Roman Mars:
That’s the song ‘Solidarity’ by the band, Scream. Oh, that song is so good. And then there’s this other category of memorable songs. The ones that we all just kind of know. Songs that somehow, without anyone’s permission, snuck their way into our collective unconscious and now are just lingering there for all eternity. These songs aren’t necessarily good, but they usually have some undeniably catchy quality to them. A hook that worms its way into our brains and never leaves, like this one.

[‘Baby Shark’ Audio Clip]
Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Roman Mars:
But I think there’s one song in the last 25 years that exemplifies this phenomenon more than any other. It’s a song that I think nearly every one of you will recognize. It is not my favorite.

[Clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Baha Men]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
You did not ask for it, dear listener, but today’s entire episode is devoted to ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’. Don’t go, I swear it’ll be good because this is the story about how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains. And it’s actually really complicated and it goes back decades and spans continents. And in the end, I think it tells us something important about inspiration and how creativity spreads. And about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. To tell the story we have brought in the world’s foremost expert on ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah, it’s an undisputed title.

Roman Mars:
This is Ben Sisto and about 10 years ago, Ben was reading the Wikipedia entry for the song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by the Baha Men-

Ben Sisto:
And I noticed this missing citation.

Roman Mars:
The Wikipedia entry said that the Baha Men didn’t actually write the song, but that a British hairdresser named Keith had heard it on a trip to Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, and that he passed it along to music producers. But it was all very vague and that made Ben curious. So curious that he spent the next 10 years trying to figure out the answer to what seems like a pretty straightforward question. Who wrote, ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’.

Ben Sisto:
And I just kind of got this journalism bug. So I just kept asking people ‘who let the dogs out’? And here we are a decade later.

Roman Mars:
Our story begins in the year 2000 with the release of that song by the Baha Men.

Roman Mars:
I know exactly where I was the first time I heard this song. I saw a game at Pacbell Park, that’s what it was called then, to see the Giants play. And before the game, the Baha Men came out, played the song. I’d never heard it before, never heard of the Baha Men. It might’ve been already a hit, but it seemed like everyone already knew it. And even if you’d never heard it before, you kind of feel you know the song already. It has a kind of like Jungian urtext kind of quality to it. So, who are the Baha Men?

Ben Sisto:
So Baha Men are a really hardworking, multi-generational band from the Bahamas and they’ve been playing together in one form or another since the ’70s. They started off as a group called High Voltage, sort of playing resorts around the islands. They’ve always been known for this style called junkanoo. And that’s the music associated with a street parade by the same name. You can think, big bright costumes, hundreds of steel drums and cowbells and goatskin drums, just like a big party. And this is kind of the scene that Baha Men are part of.

[Song Clip]
You don’t have to worry
Or even say you’re sorry
When you hear the Junkanoo.

Ben Sisto:
They were signed by a young A&R guy, Steve Greenberg, and he stayed with them across multiple labels and break-even releases. And Steve actually ends up being the guy who convinces them to record ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’.

Steve Greenburg:
The song had a really amazing hook and I’d say one of these days I’m going to figure out how to do this. Do this song right. Because there’s something here. And I just never forgot about the song. I knew that the Baha Men were the people who I wanted to record the song. They just made sense to me. And, in fact, I used to keep a diary and I wrote in my diary, “I’m going to record that song, ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ with the Baha Men, and have a big hit all over the world. I’m certain.”

Ben Sisto:
This sounds kind of crazy in retrospect, but Baha Men were like, “No thanks.” The song was already a hit in that area and they just didn’t think it would be a good look to cover something everybody already knew.

Baha Men:
I didn’t want to do the song. That’s why I have to give Steve credit. “I’m not going to ask you to do anything else, just this one song.” And hey, I said, “Steve, conversation is finished. We will do the song.” I’m extremely happy that we did.

Roman Mars:
So why did their producer, Steve, care so much about the song?

Ben Sisto:
I think Steve is just one of these guys who knows a hit when he hears it. Steve has also given, for better or worse, he’s given the world acts like Hanson. And if there’s a song that’s going to play well in stadiums and on Disney, yeah, he just knows.

Roman Mars:
So you said the song was already a hit in the Bahamas. Is that where he heard it originally? Steve?

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. So Steve heard the song via Keith Wainwright who’s my original kind of Wikipedia mystery guy, and Steve Greenberg instantly knew that there was something special about the hook. And that kind of led to him deciding to pitch it to Baha Men.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. So Steve hears the song, likes the song… well, doesn’t really like the song but likes the hook of the song. So who wrote the hook?

Ben Sisto:
To find that out… It’s the late ’90s, so Steve went and, as someone did in the late ’90s, asked Jeeves. He went to the website and said, “Jeeves, Who Let The Dogs Out?” And this led Steve to a message board where people were discussing their vacations and music played at Carnival. And this is where Steve first learns that this track is cut by a guy named Anslem Douglas.

Anslem Douglas:
I’m still amazed that after 20 years it’s still out there and playing and new kids, a new generation, is growing up on it. If you don’t know the song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ you’re living under a rock. Think about it. What other song you know been out there for 20 years and every child knows it?

Ben Sisto:
So Douglas was actually already a known name in the Bahamas music scene and he wanted to use this platform to write kind of a feminist anthem, like a song that could be this rallying cry for women who are fed up with the ‘dogs’: men behaving poorly on the dance floor. So do you want to… We can take a listen.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, to his version. Totally.

[Clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Anslem Douglas]
Well the party was nice, the party was pumpin’ (Hey, Yippie-Yi-Yo)
And everybody havin’ a ball (Hah, ho, Yippie-Yi-Yo)
Until the fellas started name callin’ (Yippie-Yi-Yo)
And the girls respond to the call
I heard a woman shout out

Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
That is the song.

Ben Sisto:
That’s it.

Roman Mars:
Wow. I mean, that seems very clear. So Anslem Douglas wrote that hook, and that’s the thing we think of when we think of this song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’ Although I love the arrangement, actually.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah, I do too. And you know, Douglas is obviously more in the so-called calypso tradition and it’s more like a, “take off your shirt, take off your towel, whip it at a high BPM,” and the Baha Men is this Americanized hip-hop influenced. But the Baha Men version retains this junkanoo undertone, which was really important as far as crossover movements for the genre.

Roman Mars:
So when it comes to the question, who let the dogs out? The answer is Anslem Douglas.

Ben Sisto:
Not quite. Douglas wrote ‘Doggy,’ but it really wasn’t his idea alone.

Anslem Douglas:
I never told anyone, “Hey, I came up with the phrase.” Never did, because I didn’t. I knew that my brother-in-law was the one who said, “Hey, you’ve got to do this song. You’ve got to do the song, Who Let the Dogs…” I said, “All right, I will do it.” So he was the one who encouraged me to do it. So I gave him that credit because he was the one who said, “Do the song.”

Ben Sisto:
So Douglas’ former brother-in-law was the host of this deejay mix show ‘Wrecked Shop Radio’ out of Toronto. And two of that show’s producers were these guys, Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams, who they were like writing promos and jingles for it. And one of those jingles contained the phrase ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ followed by the sound of dogs barking. And this is late ’95, early ’96.

Wrecked Shop Radio:
“At the front of the office, I used to go, “Who let the dogs out?” And Maurice would be out there and he’d go, “woo, woo, woo.” And I’d go, “Who let the dogs out?” And you’d hear the dogs go “Woo, woo, woo, woo.” And then we brought that in and Patrick was like, put that all together. That’s how that vibration came out.”

Ben Sisto:
It was very hard to track these guys down. But after years of begging and calling and DMing, they eventually produced these original recordings.

[Clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ jingle by Wrecked Shop Radio]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
Yeah. So that’s the chorus right there. That’s it. Wow.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. I mean that the hook. But this part kind of gets a little fuzzy because, well one, it’s 20 years ago, but people involved have different accounts. The long-short is that Stephenson and Williams, kind of on a handshake agreement, told Douglas like, “Okay, you use this. Write a song, go down to carnival.” But they didn’t think it was going to become a big hit and they didn’t really know much about protecting publishing rights at the time.

Wrecked Shop Radio:
“We were so in love with doing the music and being creative, but we were passionate about creating and not taking care of the business and the business bit us in the end.”

Roman Mars:
Wow. So sort of handshake deal allowed Anslem Douglas to make this Carnival song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ called ‘Doggy’ and then it’s the one who gets licensed to the Baha Men to make ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’ So did Stephenson and Williams know anything about the licensing to the Baha Men?

Ben Sisto:
Not until they heard it on the radio.

Roman Mars:
Oh, that’s rough.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. I mean for a song so happy, it’s a very dark moment.

Roman Mars:
Oh my God. Oh my God.

Wrecked Shop Radio:
“I’m going to a Jamaican restaurant and hearing this record that “we did and they leave the hook and I’m hearing it on the radio. Oh yeah, we wrote that. And other people are making so much money off this thing. Yeah, it was hard after you found out that someone else was making money off your idea.

Ben Sisto:
So there’s no official ruling, but Douglas signs an affidavit asserting that Stephenson and Williams were the original authors of the hook that his work was based on. That gives Douglas the rights to move forward with his own version and licensing.

Roman Mars:
Okay. So let me try to get this all straight. So when it comes to ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ there’s Steve and the Baha Men who made the super popular version that most people know. There’s Anslem Douglas who made the version from the Bahamas called ‘Doggy’ that was directly covered and licensed by the Baha Men. And then there’s these DJs who had this brilliant innovation of bearing a rhetorical question with the dogs barking. And so that’s incredibly complicated set of people and versions and rights and rights holders and people fighting. It’s just kind of stunning.

Ben Sisto:
Well, actually there’s more.

[Clip of ‘You’re a Dog’ by 20 Fingers]
Who let them dogs loose? (who? who?)
Who let them dogs loose? (who? who?)

Roman Mars:
So what is that?

Ben Sisto:
That is a remix of a song called ‘You’re a Dog,’ which is by a group called 20 Fingers featuring the singer Gillette. And that came out in ’94. It was a followup single to their global kind of mega-hit, ‘Short Dick Man.’ Do you remember that song?

Roman Mars:
No, it doesn’t leap immediately to mind.

Ben Sisto:
Well, as I kind of just implied ‘Short Dick Man’ was, in fact, huge and this big global hit and yet people were paying attention to these artists and stuff coming out of the Chicago scene. They were sort of like Douglas, they wanted a way to, like, make a fun record that hit back against some of the misogyny that was going on in dance music at the time. Manny Mohr who is part of the 20 Fingers writing and production team just felt very frustrated by all that. So that’s kind of where ‘You’re a Dog’ comes from.

Roman Mars:
So this one was released in 1994. Does that mean that they are legally the authors of the song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’

Ben Sisto:
So here we kind of need to maybe shift gears and talk about copyright for a sec.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

Ben Sisto:
When you’re considering a copyright infringement claim, there’s two areas you really want to focus on and they’re access and similarity. The latter, similarity, is pretty straight-forward. It’s like do these things look or sound the same? But even if two things seem very similar, which of course it’s subjective, the courts will recognize there’s a finite number of ways to arrange notes and words. So you also have to consider this concept of access, which in short means was the alleged infringer aware of the plaintiff’s work? What’s the line between copying in coincidence?

Roman Mars:
Okay. And so did the Canadian DJs, did they hear this song by Gillette?

Ben Sisto:
Stephenson and Williams claimed to have never heard of the song or anything about 20 Fingers. Based on Gillette’s charting and billboard and stuff, I find that a little tough to believe, but I have to take them at their word.

Roman Mars:
And so legally, does Gillette and 20 Fingers have a case that their copyright had been infringed?

Ben Sisto:
I think they did, but at the time their label didn’t want to pursue it. There’s a joke about copyright being the right to be held up in court until you’re bankrupt. And if you’re like an indie label or something like that, you might not have the resources and assets to sue a major label who can just kind of treat their legal expenses the same way one might like marketing costs. It’s kind of all the same pot as long as you have a net positive result.

Roman Mars:
Okay, that makes sense. So I guess the DJs are the ones with the legal claim to the song because they weren’t challenged by 20 Fingers. But 20 Fingers can say that they are the original authors of the song.

Ben Sisto:
Not so fast, Roman.

[Clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Miami Boom Productions]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
(laughs) So who are these people?

Ben Sisto:
This is Miami Boom Productions of Jacksonville, Florida with their song ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ which was written and recorded in 1992.

Roman Mars:
Oh, my goodness.

Ben Sisto:
This duo is Brett Hammock and Joe Gonzalez, their stage names at the time ‘Be Nasty’ and ‘Miami Jay’, who are basically just like cool teenagers and they want to write, produce and perform Miami bass music. That was it. That was everything to them.

Brett Hammock:
“I actually had someone call me and they’re like, “Hey, I heard you and Joe’s song on the radio.” And I was like, “No, you didn’t.” He was like, “Oh yeah, I swear to you the ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ I just heard it on the radio.” We flipped it on and I’m just thinking somebody ripped off our track.”

Roman Mars:
Wow. So this is another set of people completely blindsided by hearing the Baha Men’s ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ on the radio.

Ben Sisto:
Completely. There’s actually this kind of an amazing story of where they came up with the hook. So these guys, they’re driving around Florida in their parents’ Chevy Astro van, they’ve taken the back seats out to make room for extra speakers and they’re blasting this album, ‘Kings of Bass’ by Bass Patrol. On that album, there’s a song called ‘The Mad Scientist’ and very, very low in the mix, like you can barely hear it if you’re not looking for it, there is a sample, and Brett and Joe didn’t know what it said. They’re making up lyrics and at some point, they just said, “Who let the dogs out.” And it kind of stuck.

Brett Hammock:
“I just started throwing my arms out, ‘Who let the dogs out!'”

Joe Gonzales:
“He was starting to annoy me driving.”

Brett Hammock:
“He didn’t take me as mocking him. He started doing it too. So we’re jumping around, hopping around singing this song we just made up and I looked at him and I said, “That’s a pretty good hook.”

Ben Sisto:
That sample is actually saying, “Who’s rocking this dog’s house.” And it comes from ‘Pump Up the Party’ by Hassan. We should take a listen to this one. It’s not exactly the same. I would argue the Miami Boom stuff is transformative enough to be considered a new work, but you can really hear the seeds of it.

[‘Pump Up the Party’’ by Hassan]
Who’s rocking this dog’s house. (who? who? who? who?)
Who’s rocking this dog’s house. (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
So this is the thing that Miami Boom heard and turned it into their version of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’

Ben Sisto:
Correct.

Roman Mars:
You can see how it’s a progenitor, but it does seem like the leap between the two versions is greater in this one as opposed to a lot of the other ones that we’ve heard today.

Ben Sisto:
I would say this is more an instance of influence than copying.

Roman Mars:
Right. Okay. So Miami Boom wrote this song in 1992.

[Clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Miami Boom Productions]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
And was it released? Did other people hear it?

Ben Sisto:
Very few. And I only became aware of it because they had posted it to YouTube, which isn’t really great for copyright dating purposes because it’s like, who knows when it was recorded, but after kind of earning their trust over a couple of years and stuff, they eventually produced a bunch of stuff, like old flyers and one of the best things they produced were these floppy disks that had the original vocals and samples from the recording session.

Roman Mars:
Wow.

Ben Sisto:
In that box of floppies, there was even the original receipt from the Kmart where they bought them in Florida, so that was one way of dating it. Then I took those discs to a data preservation company in the UK called Cryo Flux who helped me identify the hardware that would have been used and then I found a DJ who had this piece of hardware and we opened them up. All the samples were there. And this DJ and producer, his name’s Mishnah, he’s also from Florida, knows a lot about Miami Bass, and he kind of verified for me there is no way that this was fake.

Roman Mars:
Wow. Once you determine the veracity of their song, that it was out there in the world, does Miami Boom also feel like they’re owed something? Like in terms of the copyright of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’

Ben Sisto:
They definitely do and I think they also want credit given to their studio engineer, her name was Mama Do.

Brett Hammock:
“When I think about the times making this music, it was phenomenal. It was the best times of my life. The bottom line is I know where we believe it came from. There’s three names missing from that song and they’re sitting right here.”

Joe Gonzales:
‘We should own that song.”

Brett Hammock:
“Yeah.”

Roman Mars:
The story is fun because the song is kind of funny and light and it’s a carnival song, but there’s a real sadness to this.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. It’s difficult as an artist to think about people who aren’t given proper attribution, like being cut out of a financial deal is one thing. But to be unknown when your song is known globally, I think hurts.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. Okay. So I feel like I need to recap here a little bit. So let’s go through all the versions. So first, here’s the Baha Men playing the version that we all know. (clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Baha Men)

Roman Mars:
Which they got from Anslem Douglas in The Bahamas. (clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Anslem Douglas)

Roman Mars:
Which he got from the Canadian radio DJs in the mid-’90s. (clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ jingle by Wrecked Shop Radio)

Roman Mars:
But before them, Gillette and 20 Fingers wrote this version in Chicago in 1994. (clip of ‘You’re a Dog’ by 20 Fingers)

Roman Mars:
Before that, Miami Boom wrote this in 1992. (clip of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by Miami Boom Productions)

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. Roman, I hate to keep doing this to you, but there is more.

[High school football stadium chant]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who?)

Roman Mars:
So what is that?

Ben Sisto:
Yeah. After I started doing some research and getting a little pressed, this guy John Michael Davis from Dowaigic, Michigan, learned about what I was doing and got in touch and he told me this story that starts in 1990 in Dowaigic. And then, it was sort of like a down and out place, had this nickname, ‘The Dog Patch’ and the town really needed like something to rally around. So Jonathan tells me this, like Rudy-like tale of high school football where there’s a Hail Mary pass and he just starts chanting, “Ooh, Ooh, let the dogs out.” And then the whole stadium starts chanting it and then yeah, it just happens. I should preface and say that’s how he remembers it. Other people from this football team don’t remember it that way. Some people told me, a guy named Keith, the funky bus driver came up with it.

Ben Sisto:
It’s kind of a mystery, but what’s important is this team blew up. They won the state champion and this chant was their motto. So as part of the research we visited Dowaigic and just like locals were like, “Oh, what are you guys doing here?” “Oh, we’re researching ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.'” And people just started giving us VHS tapes and old silkscreens and there’s just all this stuff there with ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ on it from 1990. This team’s coach was named Bernard Thomas and he was so beloved, they called them ‘Saint Bernard.’ His players were like his dogs and it just made sense.

Roman Mars:
So is the assertion that they’re making, is that this football chant traveled down to Miami to inspire Miami Boom?

Ben Sisto:
I think they’re not sure where it traveled to next or how, but get this, Joe from Miami Boom is originally from Michigan until he was like eight years old or something. So I plotted this Google map of all the places the chant appeared in Michigan after the Dowaigic Chieftains had this great victory year and that map formed a near-perfect circle around Joe’s hometown. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So it just like was so clean. So I got in touch with Joe and he verified for me that he was there that summer visiting family, but he says he’s got absolutely no memory of hearing the chant, but also when I pressed him with the evidence, he wasn’t overly defensive about it.

Joe Gonzales:
“I feel like I will never allow to publicly say, I wrote that song you know called ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’ What I can say is, in 1992, I wrote a song called ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’ If you want to hear it, it’s on YouTube. That’s all I can ever say.”

Ben Sisto:
So as it turns out, ‘who let the dogs out,’ ‘let the dogs out,’ ‘let some dogs loose,’ these are all phrases that actually pop up here and there in regionals – high school sports – long before someone recorded a song, before Stevie B. So I’m scouring all these old newspaper archives. The earliest I’ve been able to find was from 1986: the Austin Reagan High School in Austin, Texas, their team, the ‘Raiders’ used it.

[Clip from Austin Reagan High School pep rally]
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)
Who let the dogs out? (who? who? who? who?)

Roman Mars:
Holy moly.

Ben Sisto:
Yeah, that’s from a pep rally and it’s just a weird couple of seconds embedded in this much longer video chronicling the football team. It’s been on YouTube this whole time.

Roman Mars:
And what year is that?

Ben Sisto:
1986.

Roman Mars:
That sounds more like the last version, like the final version than even some of the ones in between.

Ben Sisto:
Roman, it’s a wild ride.

Roman Mars:
Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. So is this, have we finally reached the bedrock of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’? Do we actually know who let the dogs out at this point?

Ben Sisto:
Well, this is as far back as I can go. The title of the Baha Men song doesn’t have a question mark in it. And after looking into it all this time, I just have to accept that maybe it’s not a question. It’s probably unanswerable.

Roman Mars:
When you started this, did you think it would be this hard to determine who wrote a single song?

Ben Sisto:
No way. If I had known I would not have done this. But you know, it is a nice surprise and there’s been a lot of nice surprises along the way. I got to meet all these cool people and producers. Maybe I would have done it again.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. There are all these sort of ways in which people borrow and they take in information, it becomes processed in their brains, maybe they spit it out as an homage or maybe they don’t know where it comes from. Do you think about how a song is passed between different people? Are some of them lying? Are none of them lying? Where do you sort of stand in everyone’s story in this story?

Ben Sisto:
I don’t think anybody in this story is lying and I actually think people have been pretty forthcoming and open to the notion that you can hear something and it’s just in there subconsciously until it’s ready to come out. I think one of the big myths we tell ourselves about art is that it’s like made by individuals. And that myth is sort of what the art market is propped up on. Like from my own experience, I vividly remember being 20 at art school. I had this idea in woodshop class to make a box. And the box was going to have an audio tape that contained the sound of the box being made, just like youthful conceptual daydream or whatever. And this was my idea until years later, I learned that Robert Morris created a work in 1961 called ‘Box with the Sound of its Own Making.’ So it’s like, I don’t know, did I get the idea from him? Was it coincidence? Was it copying? I just can’t tell you. And I think that’s what’s cool about all the dog stuff. It’s just about the very nature of art and life. And I think that all these ideas apply to every piece of creative work ever made. (dog barking in the background)

Roman Mars:
Oh, that’s so cool. Well, I really appreciate you taking us on this journey. And maybe we’ll never know the answer to who let the dogs out, but the question is still worth asking.

Ben Sisto:
Well, thanks for having me. I’m surprised any time people want to hear me talk about this. But yeah, it was a lot of fun. Thank you. (dog barking in the background)

Roman Mars:
It certainly surprised me to learn that ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ doesn’t actually have a question mark, but titles that are grammatically questions without actually being written as questions are surprisingly common. More on that after this.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
So I’m in the studio with Chris Berube and you’re actually in town.

Chris Berube:
I am. I’m in Oakland, California.

Roman Mars:
That’s amazing. It’s so good to have you here.

Chris Berube:
It’s great to be here.

Roman Mars:
And you helped us put together this episode on ‘Who Let The Dogs Out,’ and one of the things that is kind of remarkable that is hard to convey in a podcast is that there is a kind of quirk to the title ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.’

Chris Berube:
Yes.

Roman Mars:
And that is, is that it isn’t a question, it doesn’t end in a question. ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ is just the end of it. There’s no question mark at the end of it.

Chris Berube:
Yeah, it’s a statement of fact, which is really strange. And actually, it reminded me when Ben was talking about the question mark, it reminded me of something that happened to be a year ago.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Chris Berube:
So I was hanging out with my friend, Liz, who’s a movie producer. We watch a lot of movies together and she’s like, “Hey, have you seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit!?” And I tried watching it as a kid. It’s really scary when you’re a little kid because they’re very mean to the cartoons. So I was like, “You know what? Yes, let’s give it another try. Let’s put it on.” So she turns the movie on, and then immediately, I’m like, “Oh, there’s something really weird about this movie.” And she’s like, “Oh, that the humans and cartoons are interacting?” I’m like, “No, that is fine. That is logically consistent to me.”

Roman Mars:
Absolutely.

Chris Berube:
There is something else right when the movie starts that really bothered me.

Liz:
It starts with a very lovely kind of jazzy low blue note, and then the movie’s titles fade onto screen. It’s literally the first visual of the film and it’s ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit!’ except instead of a question mark, it is phrased with an exclamation point at the end. So not ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, but ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit!’.

Chris Berube:
So that’s my friend, Liz, who I watched the movie with. And she told me there’s a very specific reason for that. And it’s because the director of the movie, Robert Zemeckis, gave this interview where he said, “There is a superstition in Hollywood that if you put a question mark at the end of your title, the movie will bomb at the box office.” And when you think about it, there’s lots of examples that back that up. ‘So What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is a statement of fact.

Roman Mars:
Statement. Okay.

Chris Berube:
‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ with Tina Turner is also a statement. And what’s weird about it though is this is not a superstition that everyone follows.

Roman Mars:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Berube:
So there’s lots of examples where they don’t use the question mark and there’s lots of examples where they do.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

Liz:
Say for example, ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.’ I think that came out in 1967. It’s a huge, huge hit. It’s got Spencer Tracey, it’s got Sidney Poitier. It’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.’ No question mark. And I always took that as an example of a movie like, “Okay, they followed the rule.” Contemporaneously, you have ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’, which is Liz Taylor’s huge, huge, huge comeback. Massive, massive, massive hit. You have ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ starring Jane Fonda. That’s got a question mark. That’s a huge hit.

Chris Berube:
So it’s not precise. So you have movies like ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’, which do really well, but then you have all these other movies at the same time, which were also doing well.

Roman Mars:
Right.

Chris Berube:
So Liz and I were looking through all these titles in history and trying to figure out some pattern or some rhyme or reason to why you put in a question mark. And what we noticed is that there’s lots of dramas that don’t use question marks. So ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’, really serious movie.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Chris Berube:
But comedies use them all the time. So ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’, that is a question.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Chris Berube:
‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, that’s a pretty goofy film. That is also a question.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Chris Berube:
And Liz’s theory about this is it’s really, the question mark really sets you up for a certain kind of mood-

Liz:
I would say sort of, of zaniness or wistfulness, it’s sort of like one or the other. So you have ‘What About Bob?’, which has a question mark at the end. Because it’s kind of like, “What about Bob?!” And it makes you feel kind of cheerful and goofy. You’re waiting for the punchline, you’re waiting for the shoe to drop. It’s like being told the first half of a joke.

Chris Berube:
So ultimately, there’s kind of no rhyme or reason to this. There’s lots of movies with question marks, there’s lots of movies without question marks.

Roman Mars:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Berube:
But what Liz explained to me, which is interesting, is it really isn’t keeping with how the movie industry makes decisions, that one thing does really well and then they kind of try to guess if that thing is going to do well-

Roman Mars:
What was the thing that did it? Yeah.

Chris Berube:
… again.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Chris Berube:
So she says it’s part of this bigger pattern where people are trying to guess things in this industry where success can sometimes feel totally random.

Liz:
You can’t fully predict how people are going to act. And some people get very, very into these nitty-gritty sort of, “Oh, people don’t like leads with blonde hair this year. That remake flops, we’re never going to make remakes for 15 more years. That musical did really well, so now we’re going to do 30 more musicals.” I mean, these kinds of superstitions are just trying to put lightning in a bottle and trying to blight any kind of rhyme or reason to what is ultimately such a multi-variant and shifting public mood that will put or not put money in your pocket, that you’ll latch on to stuff like question marks in the titles, which is the equivalent of wearing the same pair of shorts for every NCAA finals game you play in.

Chris Berube:
So ultimately, there’s kind of no answer to the mystery except to say that all creativity and art is a mystery.

Roman Mars:
And what I think I take some kind of delight in is the potential that there’s these sweaty people in suits really vexed over whether or not a question mark should go next to the title or not.

Chris Berube:
Absolutely. And what is this telling our audience? If we are telling them, “Dude, where is my car”, as a complete sentence.

Roman Mars:
Oh, I kind of love it. So I guess I… There’s so much of what we do on the show is to think about all the thought that goes into things. And often the result is a beautiful object, or a functioning street, or a curb cut or whatever. And this is truly like deck chairs on the Titanic. I mean, this is…

Chris Berube:
This is truly ‘we don’t know how this works.’

Roman Mars:
We don’t know what’s going on. It probably means nothing.

Chris Berube:
Right. We’re going to make all sorts of decisions-

Roman Mars:
There’s going to be a meeting about it.

Chris Berube:
So it is a whole meeting to decide whether or not ‘Dude, Where’s My Car’ is a statement or a question, and if that is going to influence whether a teenager is going to go see that movie.

Roman Mars:
Totally. Oh, I love it. I love it. Okay. Well, that’s a mystery unsolved. But I’ll now think of it whenever I see a poster and someone deciding that this is a declarative statement versus a query, which is awesome.

Chris Berube:
Cool.

Roman Mars:
Thanks, Chris.

Chris Berube:
Thanks, Roman.

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Ben Sisto and Chris Berube, edited by Emmett FitzGerald. There is a whole documentary about Ben’s investigation called ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, and it goes into a bunch of detail we couldn’t fit into this episode. It is delightful to watch. You can watch it on iTunes or Amazon. Special thanks this week to Brent Hodge, Aly Kelly and Jasleen Kaur for providing audio for this episode. And thanks to Liz Watson for the story about ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ – not a question. Mix and tech production by Sharif Youssef. Additional music by Sean Real with barking by Carrot Riddle-Real.

Sean Real:
“Okay, Carrot. Big trick.” (Carrot barks). “Yeah.”

Roman Mars:
Katie Mingle is our senior producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. Avery Trufelman saw the ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ documentary and insists that we make an episode about it. The rest of the team is senior editor, Delaney Hall, Vivian Le, Sofia Klatzker, Joe Rosenberg, and me, Roman Mars.

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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