Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rock n' Roll Trivia. Brought to you by Scotland.

“Hair of the Dog,” probably the most enduring song by Scottish rock band Nazareth, is one of that intriguing minority of rock tunes in which the song’s title is not mentioned anywhere in its lyrics. And unlike (for example) Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Faith No More’s “Epic,” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—for which the songs’ titles can be seen as describing either their style or themes—the phrase hair of the dog seems to be completely unrelated to its song, which depicts a man confronting and challenging a manipulative woman, telling her that she’s met her match.

Adding to the muddle is the fact that the phrase hair of the dog has a colloquial meaning, one that is also totally unrelated to the Nazareth song. Most everyone who has awakened to a crippling hangover after a night of alcoholic excess has thought—assuming the simple act of thinking isn’t unbearably painful—of taking a bit of the hair of the dog that bit them.”

Novice drinkers or those unfamiliar with English-language slang will be relieved to learn that taking the hair of the dog that bit them does not necessarily involve being bitten by an actual dog—although it could be argued that a properly executed bender would, in fact, greatly increase one’s odds of being bitten by any number of species, most of them unsanitary.
“First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink,
then the drink bites the man and poops on the rug.”
We’re pretty sure that’s how the old saying goes.

Furthermore, hair of the dog does not involve mixing actual dog hair—or, God forbid, any other dog parts—into one’s drink. It’s fair to point out, though, that your average drunk is generally willing to eat or drink all sorts of awful things that a sane and sober person would never consider: dog food, dog hair, mat shots, bottles of Tabasco sauce, Jägermeister—the list is practically endless—and if you’ve managed to convince yourself that a tall glass of dog hair will make you feel less hung over, we won’t stop you unless you’re standing on our carpet at the time. 

No, to take the hair of the dog, in a drinking context, simply means to try to cure a hangover by getting right back up on that vomit-colored horse and starting to drink again.

To the non-drinker, this seems counter-intuitive and nauseating, even borderline crazy, not to mention likely to spiral into ever-bigger problems down the road. The experienced drinker, on the other hand, knows that the best way to undo a mistake is to continue making it, again and again and again, until coming to the partially-sobering realization that shut up, I don’t have a problem, I can quit any time I want.

Any listener with a passing knowledge of the English language will find it safe to say that “Hair of the Dog”—we’re talking about the song again now—has nothing to do with hangover cures, alcoholism, hair, bites, or dogs. How, then, to explain the title?

We’re glad you asked. Back in 1975, right around the time when Nazareth was working on the album that became Hair of the Dog (which, not coincidentally, contained the song of the same name), certain parts of human society actually were troubled by naughty language. This is why recording artists had to wait more than thirty years to truly express their musical genius through insightful song titles such as “Fuck” (Bring Me the Horizon), “Fuck” (Derrick Jensen), “Fuck You” (Cee Lo Green),  “Fuck You” (Nuno Bettencourt), “Fuck You” (Dr. Dre), “If You Seek Amy” (Britney Spears—she can spell, get it?), “Motherfuckeroos” (by a band called, believe it or not, Fuck),1 “Shit” (Tall Tall Trees), “Shit?” (Whiskey Tango), and “People = Shit” (Slipknot), or band names such as Oh Shit! and Shit Robot.2

Nazareth wanted to name their album and the song Son of a Bitch—because, hey, they actually do say that in the song, quite a bit actually—but their record label didn’t like it. John Lennon could probably have gotten away with it, but Nazareth didn’t have quite the same clout, so instead they had to get clever. Hence, the title is a play on words, which is a kind of thing smart people sometimes do to convince themselves that they’re smart:
  • A son, as you may be aware, is often an heir to his parents’ fortune or land; heir, pronounced correctly, sounds kind of like hair.3
  • Bitch, as you may also be aware, is a name for a specific kind of dog.
  • So, Hair of the Dog = Son of a Bitch.
And he says son of a bitch in the song! Get it?

Ha! I get it. It spells F-U- . . .
Wait, let me start over.
We’re well aware that many of our readers had probably either learned or figured out this little bit of irrelevance long ago. We ourselves caught onto it almost immediately when it was explained to us, several weeks ago. For the rest of you, though, we hope that this has provided a small but intriguing insight into the history of rock and censorship. And for any of you who seriously believe that “If You Seek Amy” is a clever title for a song, we’re quite confident that this absolutely boggled your minds.

1. We’re guessing they bring the house down at all the junior-high dances they’re invited to play. Although the title “Motherfuckeroos” is such a bizarre combination of offensive and silly that we are forced to admit that we laughed when we first read it.
2. We suspect that they’re not very good. 
3. Pronounced incorrectly, it sounds like “tractor.”

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