I Want a Dog

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Introspective
Producer (album version) - Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Knuckles; (original version) - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Alternative, Actually 2001 reissue Further Listening 1987-1988 bonus disc
Other releases - b-side of single "Rent"; bonus track with single "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)"

This track, the 7" version of which first appeared as the flip side of the "Rent" single, was inspired by the Boys' friend Peter Andreas, who mentioned at one point wanting a dog—but just a chihuahua since he had only a small apartment. Neil thought this was a delightful notion, so he wrote the lyrics that Chris set to music. In addition to expressing their fondness for dogs, this song also professes the Boys' mutual dislike of cats, which they've referred to on more than one occasion. The version that appears on Introspective is dramatically remixed and expanded, though the shorter, simpler original version reappeared later in the Alternative collection.

I've always found this an extremely lonely song, sung from the perspective of a narrator who considers the possibility of relying on a pet to keep him company more feasible—and perhaps more appealing—than relying on another human being. But, to be sure, this song invites a variety of other interpretations. For one thing, some critics have suggested a possible tribute to or lyrical parody of Iggy Pop's notorious 1969 track "I Wanna Be Your Dog." I fail to see it myself. Taking this idea even further, there are those who read into it S&M/B&D implications. I'm not inclined to see that in it, either. The point, however, is that others do, which testifies to its deceptive richness.

For all of its surface-level simplicity, this song has some remarkable undercurrents. Take the opening line: the straightforward declaration "I want a dog." And what type of dog might this man want? A German shepherd? An Irish setter? A boxer? No, a chihuahua. Not exactly the most "manly" of choices, at least traditionally speaking. Regardless of its real-life inspiration with their friend, the Boys were fully aware that this would be a subversion of convention, a violation of expectations. After all, that's why Neil found it so delightful—for its humorous effect. In fact, it's one of the most blatant examples of lyrical camp in the PSB corpus.

The second verse takes the seemingly mundane matter of pet choice even further, introducing additional levels of subversion. When Neil sings, "Don't want a cat," at a purely textual level he's upholding stereotypical gender expectations. Dogs are the stereotypical "masculine" choice of pet, whereas cats are the stereotypical "feminine" choice. Yet at a subtextual level something else may be going on. If we regard these pets as stand-ins for expressions of sexual preference—"dog" as "man," and "cat" as "woman"—we might then view such lines as "I want a dog" (thus "I want a man") and "Don't want a cat" (or "Don't want a woman") as coded, pre-coming-out expressions by Neil (or at least his lyrical persona in the song) of his own orientation, either conscious or subconscious. Recalling writer Philip Core's definition of camp as "the lie that tells the truth," we might, with the hindsight of more than two decades, regard the song itself as an arch instance of camp: a strongly coded lie that told a truth about the Boys that wouldn't become "official" for at least several years.

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