Sunday, January 29, 2012

Walking the Dog: Issa's Sunday Service, #128

Walkin' The Dog by The Rolling Stones on Grooveshark

Being of a certain age and musical persuasion, the first version I heard and fell in love with of this song was by the Rolling Stones. Rufus Thomas, however, wrote it, sang it, and had a top ten hit with it and it is his song all the way. So, for purists everywhere, here's the original:

The literary connection in this one is the nursery rhyme "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary," the lyrics of which he beautifully inserted wholesale into his song.

Mary Mack dressed in black
Silver buttons all down her back
I know, 'cause I love her so
She broke her needle now she can't sew

Walkin' the dog
Walkin' the dog
Now if you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog

Ask my mama for fifty cents
To see the elephant jump the fence
It jumped so high it hit the sky
Never got back 'til the fourth July

Walkin' the dog
Walkin' the dog
Lord, if you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog

Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow
You got silver bells and little white shells
Pretty maids all in a row

Walkin' the dog
Walkin' the dog
Well if you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog

Ask my mama for fifty cents
To see the elephant jump the fence
It jumped so high it hit the sky
Never got back 'til the fourth July

Walkin' the dog
Walkin' the dog
Well if you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Historically there are lots of explanations for the rhyme; Wikipedia puts forth a parcel. In any case, it makes it into the LitRock pantheon by virtue of the rhyme, whatever the "true" story behind it.

The last line "and pretty maids all in a row" was used to continue a violent interpretation of the rhyme in a Roger Vadim film concerning a serial killer called "Pretty Maids All in a Row."

The first two verses, "Mary Mack" and "Ask my mama" also originate somewhere else - a song used in a clapping game, which, according to Wikipedia, has many variations. The clapping game also was used as a jump rope song.

Which brings us to the chorus (and title): though I've seen a lot about the song here and there on the net, including some scurrilous interpretations of the title, the fact is that this song was one of many popular songs named after or coining a term for a particular type of dance popular in the music of the time.

The one obvious fact I've seen nowhere on the net is how Thomas came up with the idea to use lyrics from a nursery rhyme and a song that originated in a children's clapping game. But when you think about it, it's common sense.

What would a songwriter out walking his dog be most likely to see (and hear) in the early 60s on the streets of America - children playing jump rope, for which they used a wide variety of old nursery rhymes and clapping games passed down from generation to generation.

Now, where is that jump rope app when I need it most (when I typed this words, I was being facetious - guess I should have known better)?


a long day--
the dog and the crow

translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 128 songs


Charles Gramlich said...

Cool. I have only previously heard the Stones version.

Ed Baker said...

we in the 50's used to
with our Duncan Yo-Yo s

do a trick called "Walk the Dog"

the yo-yo being another way
play-with-yourself ....

Fred said...

"Walking the dog?"

That's referring to one of the basic tricks one can do with a yo-yo, or so it was when I was a tad.

One runs the yo-yo out and jerks it so it holds at the end of the string pointing down to just above the ground at about a 45 degree angle, approximately the same relationship one would have with a dog on a leash walking in front.

Bart said...

I enjoyed this Don. I walk the dog every day.

Lyle Daggett said...

The playground rhyme that sticks in my mind the most clearly from childhood (and I've used generic kid names here -- in the actual rhymes we would say, we would use the actual kids' names):

Johnny and Mary
Sittin' in a tree,
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes Mary
With a baby carriage.

It was a way of gossiping publicly about which boys and girls were though to "like" each other. Not exactly Facebook, but...


The Issa haiku brought to mind a small drama I witnessed once several years ago here in Minneapolis. I was waiting for a bus, at a bus stop located by the northeast corner of a large cemetery. There was a wrought-iron fence that ran along the edge of the cemetery grounds.

Behind the fence, in a grove of evergreen trees, there was a squirrel on the ground, and a crow was repeatedly diving at the squirrel, pecking at it, beating at the squirrel with its wings, harassing the squirrel in general.

After several minutes of this, the squirrel finally had enough, and scampered off through the gap between two of the iron uprights of the fence, and ran off across the street to the other side.

And as the squirrel got to the far curb, the crow suddenly took wing and flew across the street, and began diving down and harassing the squirrel some more.

I could almost hear the crow laughing at the squirrel, "Ha, ha -- I can fly!"

Then the two creatures disappeared behind a parked car, and I didn't see what became of them after that. Shortly after that the bus came and I got on, and went on my way.

I never did figure out the source of the argument between the two animals. Just astonishing, isn't it, to try to contemplate the possible inner life of another living creature.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, glad to spread the joy.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I did run across this while researching the song and forgot to mention, so am very happy you brought it up.

And, yes, how inventive we humans - so many, many ways to play with ourselves, for ourselves - music, art, poetry ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Great description of the trick, Fred - I remember it being similar to putting the yo-yo to sleep, that being part one of walking the dog.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Great story ... there is always something about Mr, Crow, eh?

Which puts in me mind of a James Wright poem - second time in a week this has happened (see comments) - which was also set at a bus stop, this time in Minneapolis' sister city.

I do also remember the rhyme you quoted though we used a variation that my aged mind can't at the moment quite recall.


snowbird said...

This post reminds me of a wonderful book I came across years ago: "nonsense" Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature by Susan Stewart...The Johns Hopkins University Press 1978-1979. It has been on a treasured shelf in my library ever since. :-) When I was five my Mom told me I was too old for nursery rhymes ... they have been a forbidden fruit ever since.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ah, M, the forbidden fruit ... yes, indeed. Book looks very interesting - if it is the same person, Susan Stewart is a formidable poet.


snowbird said...

It's the same Susan Stewart... mg

TC said...


A post that brings back so so so many memories. All one can say is, love is a family... and Gee Whiz.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


W.O.W.! Thanks for a great way to start my day.


Ed Baker said...

here is the exact version/45 I still have
mine and Anita Pacen (Pacentrelli')'s

"our song"
any slow dance song wuz "our song" about 1960 !

Anita still calls me on my birthday :
still a stack of 45 s in my shed....

Ebb Tide, Over the Mountain, Annie Had a Baby,
Blue Monday, Eddie My Love, etc...

slow dancing w Anita in her Fuzzy Sweater ....



TC said...

And good morning from here, Don.

The Thomas family memory bank overfloweth, thanks to you.

Another bit I like, Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell doing the best they can to keep up with Rufus, in asking the musical question: Can Your Monkey Do the Dog?"

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Can't say how many hours I spent actually intently watching labels go round and round ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I think you may have reposted the same link ...

Now I'm really curious!


TC said...


Apologies. Falling down in the street at night one too many times, I guess.

These dancers would never have done that.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Ah, Fred and Ginger (& Rufus!). Ok, after songs named after dances, now we have song sequels of the 50s/early 60s.

Ed Baker said...

lest we-haul for
Little Eva

and "dig" the three whit guys backing her up
all those fuzzy sweaters

another "Little"
was Little Anthony and the Imperials

& a Frankie (Lyman)

of course the first 'cross-over' black was
Johnny Ace

an UHUL do know that my and Aniita's favorite slow-dance song (before the name was changed "to protect the white market) was Johnny My Love which I forget the girl who wrote it for/about Johnny Ace

Eddie my Love

there was also a Little Wille John and
a Little Stevie Wonder.....

Ed Baker said...

one mor
& then i gotta go
walk the dawn
(and the cat &
call SAnita):
here is Johnnie & Joe

one of the top three ALL TIME R & B songs.
on The Milt Grant Show... LIVE !
(remember live tv ?)

Anita and I were on The Milt Grant Show .... twice

....dressed /looked just like the kids in the film....

the third time that we went they wouldn't let us in because I was wearing pegged piked pants ... they had a very script dress code ! they also had an even stricter dance code !