Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ralph McTell: Old Brown Dog

I suppose that this song is a moral story about how people and dogs are much the same – sometimes we appear to have outlived our usefulness; however, we somehow have one last hurrah even in the face of adversaries. Although Ralph McTell sings of an “Old Brown Dog” who is slated to be euthanized, the dog returns to youthful activities and he dies a natural death as his heart ceased its function.

It’s a sad song, but it has a positive ending that the dog went in his own time on his own terms. Something , I hope I get to do and not someone else making that decision for me. The song comes from McTell’s 1971 LP “You Well Meaning Brought Me Here.” I first heard this from a guy who lived in my college dorm. He worked at the local radio station (WGOH) and he procured it as they were ditching some albums.

I got my copy in a similar fashion as WMUL at Marshall University was doing some spring cleaning in 1979. “You Well Meaning Brought Me Here” was headed for the trash heap and I rescued this classic folk-rock LP from a true legend – Ralph McTell.

The song feature the piano of Rick Wakeman and a trio of musicians who would later join Elton John’s band: Davey Johnstone, Caleb Quaye, and Roger Pope. Johnstone plays the very tasteful mandolin parts. The guitar solo that takes the tune out was provided by Caleb Quaye. Its unique tone is courtesy of a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet. Pope, as he would with Elton, handled the back beat.


That old brown dog sleeps in the rain,
Unless the sun has shone.
That old brown dog is all alone,
Since Old Bill been gone.
And sleeping in the rain
Only gives a dog a bad name.
If Bill were alive
Well I know he would decide
To have the same thing done.
That old brown dog he smells so bad,
Say the people from the town.
That old brown dog is almost lame,
Someone should put him down.
It would be an act of kindness,
You know it's for the best.
You bring a rope, bring a gun,
And it'll all be over
Before the dog can guess.
Could an old brown dog have become wise
Guessed they were all after him.
His hearing was failing, and his eyes
Were fast growing dim.
On the day they came to kill him
He sensed a rabbit on a log.
Did anybody see a rabbit
Chased across the meadows
By an old brown dog.
That old brown dog, tail wagging,
As he laid himself down.
It did not seem to matter,
That the rabbit had long gone to ground.
And there in the summer heat,
His old heart ceased to beat.
And high above the meadow
The skylarks singing
As the spark went out.

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