If Dogs Run Free

If Dogs Run Free is performed with tongue firmly in cheek. It was recorded in one take. Al Kooper, of Like a Rolling Stone fame, tinkles the ivories and Maeretha Stewart does the first scat-singing on a Dylan recording. Stewart went on to sing on The Wiz, Schoolhouse Rock! and The Muppets.

From Dylan’s 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, on the making of “If Dogs Run Free.”

For one of the sets of lyrics, [Al] Kooper played some Teddy Wilson riffs on the piano. There were three girl singers in the room who sounded like they’d been plucked from a choir, and one of them [scat-singing Maeretha Stewart] did some improvisational scat singing. The whole thing was done in just one take and called ‘If Dogs Run Free.

Tom Wilmeth in Jazz Times wrote:

“If Dogs Run Free” is as close as Bob himself has come to recording a jazz tune. The number is a spoken work of hipster monologue, a la Kenneth Rexroth.

Many have pointed out the possible influence of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s famous beat poem “Dog”. Although Dylan is certainly very familiar with Ferlinghetti, any connection with Dog seems pretty tenuous, to me anyway.

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn’t hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit’s Tower
and past Congressman Doyle
He’s afraid of Coit’s Tower
but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
democratic dog
engaged in real
free enterprise
with something to say
about ontology
something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at street corners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master’s Voice
and looking
like a living question mark
into the
great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

If Dogs Run Free is number 6 on Rolling Stone’s list of Ten Worst Dylan songs, as chosen by fans.

Dylan played it live for the first time in 2000. Nothing special, but he seems to be having a good time with it.

You’re a Dylan fan with small kids? You need this book.


If dogs run free, then why not we
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain
The best is always yet to come
That’s what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you’ll be king
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, why not me
Across the swamp of time?
My mind weaves a symphony
And tapestry of rhyme
Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be
To each his own, it’s all unknown
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, then what must be
Must be, and that is all
True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall
In harmony with the cosmic sea
True love needs no company
It can cure the soul, it can make it whole
If dogs run free

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