The death of a beloved pet is no laughing matter. It can be a genuinely traumatic experience - for some people, even more devastating than the death of a relative. I'm not making light of that, and neither are any of the songwriters featured below... although some of these songs, when heard through cynical 21st Century ears, might be the source of derision for some... especially our unfortunate Number One.
10. Pinback - Penelope
Penelope was a goldfish belonging to Pinback mainman Armistead Burwell Smith IV. The fish apparently died of dropsy and he wrote this, one of the band's most successful tunes, in tribute.
9. The Byrds - Bugler
One of three Byrds songs about beloved pets - see also Old Blue, who ends up in Pet Heaven alongside Bugler... and Fido (I kid you not) who manages to survive. Although, considering the song in question was written back in 1969...
8. Okkervil River - Dead Dog Song
A pretty blunt title from the Okkervil lads, but this is more emotional than you might expect. Unlike The Byrds, however, Will Sheff doesn't appear to believe in doggy heaven...
He'd never been to church, so he doesn't have a soul7. Amy Winehouse - October Song
He isn't waiting at the place where all of us will go
But the woodchucks wouldn't run so wild
The bushes wouldn't be so overgrown if we were not alone
Dedicated to Amy's pet canary Ava (after Ava Gardner) who flew away to live "in paradise". Will she be reborn like Sarah Vaughan?
6. Queen - All Dead, All Dead
Written about the death of Bryan May's childhood cat, and how terrible he felt at her passing. Freddie was also a cat lover - the song Delilah was written about one of his own furry feline friends.
5. Joni Mitchell - Man From Mars
Joni's cat wasn't actually dead when she wrote this - she just thought he was. They'd had a bit of a falling out after Nietzsche (only Joni Mitchell would have a cat called Nietzsche) kept pissing outside its litter tray (Joni: I hear your pain) and when she chucked him out, he didn't return until after she'd written this tearful lament.
I call and call4. Paul Simon - Mother & Child Reunion
The silence is so full of sounds
You're in them all
I hear you in the water
And the wiring in the walls
Man from Mars
This time you went too far
Apparently written about the death of Simon's favourite childhood pet - which puts an entirely different light on those familiar lyrics. The title, however, was allegedly the name of a dish at his local Chinese restaurant. That could be apocryphal interweb nonsense, but I hope it isn't.
3. Elvis Presley - Old Shep
Probably popular culture's most famous ode to a deceased pet, it's been mercilessly mocked over the years and has lost much of its bite. If you can put that aside though, it's bloody heartbreaking.
Old Shep has historical importance too - it was the first song Elvis ever performed live, aged 10, at a country show. He came fifth and won $5. Happy 80th, Elvis.
And speaking of Elvis...
2. Neil Young - Old King
Undoubtedly the best song in this list... but it doesn't make Number One for reasons explained below. Neil's dog was actually called Elvis, but he changed its name when he wrote this tribute "to avoid confusion". Elvis used to go on tour with Neil but he's "riding on Jimi Hendrix's bus now".
Then I thought about the times we hadI actually find the above verse tremendously affecting, though I can see how others might find its basic rhyme scheme rather mawkish. It reminds me of my first dog, Fly, and how devastated I was as a child when she died. All I could think about was the time I'd smacked her because she wouldn't stop barking. I cried for days. In the end, my dad gave me a hammer and stone chisel and let me carve her name into the dry stone wall near where he'd buried her. It worked: it helped me say goodbye
Once when I kicked him when he was bad
Old King sure meant a lot to me
But that hound dog is history
1. Jim Reeves - Old Tige
Many years ago, when I used to work in hospital radio, Jim Reeves was our most requested artist. Perhaps there's something about being close to death that makes people turn to big Jim. To be fair though, his most popular tune was I Love You Because... Old Tige was only requested once and it took me quite a while to find it in the station's badly organised record library. When I finally did, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Old Tige takes the dead dog premise that was arguably perfected on Old Shep to a whole other level. It's the sort of song that, if it was recorded nowadays, could only be a piss-take. Yet Jimbo plays it perfectly straight... hilariously so. I'd forgotten all about Old Tige until Guy Garvey played it recently on his 6Music show... and I'd forgotten just how much I "love" it.
The song is a classic recitative - a story told (not sung) with backing harmonies laying out a haunting chorus. It follows a young man's return from the army and a lonely walk across misty moorland with his faithful dog who's come to greet him. Along the way, he remembers all the good times they had together, such as the time "he saved me from the charging bull that... gored my dad to death". Tige once again saves his master's life on the foggy journey home (basically, he stops him falling into a reservoir), but there's a tragic and heartbreaking twist to the tail when Jim finally rolls on home... see if you can guess what it is.
What's your favourite (dead) pet sound? Surely it can't beat Old Tige...