Gone Wild: How Animals Have Inspired Music


Since humans started making music, we have been inspired by love and sex – the pursuit of it, the joy of it, the loss of it. But, coming in second as a source of inspiration might be something just as wild and animalistic: Animals.

If you’ve ever gotten down to “Disco Duck” or flapped your arms to “Chicken Dance,” you know.

Of course, our wild friends have been used in the names of many music acts.

Felines are popular (Doja Cat, Cat Stevens, Atomic Kitten, Stray Cats, Pussycat Dolls, Cheetah Girls, Glass Tiger, Def Leppard, Steel Panther, John Cougar Mellencamp) but canines get some love, too (Three Dog Night, Bloodhound Gang, Snoop Dogg). Also big, so to speak, are insects (The Beatles, Scorpions, Adam Ant, Papa Roach, Iron Butterfly, WASP), and rodents (Ratt, Modest Mouse, deadmau5, Boomtown Rats).

There are primates (Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz, The Monkees), reptiles and amphibians (White Snake, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Cobra Starship), floppy-eared critters (Bad Bunny, Echo and the Bunnymen), floppy-tailed ones (John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band), farm animals (Lamb of God, The Chicks, Crazy Horse, Band of Horses) and animals that roam the prairies and savannahs (Buffalo Springfield, Caribou, Wolfmother, Wolf Parade, Steppenwolf, Cage the Elephant, Tame Impala).

Let's not forget aquatic life (Blue Oyster Cult, Hootie & the Blowfish, Great White, Phish, The Turtles). And yes, Lance Bass and Seal get honourable mentions.

And if you're a '60s rock band that can't come up with a specific species, go with The Animals.

Bad Bunny, deadmau5 and Tame Impala. Getty Images

Also popular are things that can fly (Counting Crows, Black Crowes, Sheryl Crow, The Byrds, Flock of Seagulls, Owl City, Eagles, Eagles of Death Metal, Eagle Eye Cherry, The Yardbirds). Do we count Robyn?

Things with wings also come up occasionally in song titles: “Blackbird” by The Beatles, “Bat Out Of Hell” by Meatloaf and “Hummingbird” by Metro Boomin and James Blake.

The Beatles also gave us “I Am The Walrus” that mentioned not only the titular Odobenus rosmarus but a pig, dog, penguin and crab (Goo goo g’joob).

In 2013, Ylvis gave us “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)” (Spoiler alert: “Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!”) which has shout-outs to dogs, cats, birds, mice, cows, frogs, elephants, ducks, fish and seals.

But no one mentioned more animals in one song than Rex Harrison, who sang “Talk to the Animals” in the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle. Written by Leslie Bricusse, the song refers to two dozen animals.

Sometimes, a song with an animal in the title is not actually about an animal. Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 track “White Rabbit” was an ode to Alice in Wonderland — or drugs, or both – and neither Elton John’s 1972 classic “Crocodile Rock” or Culture Club’s 1983 hit “Karma Chameleon” are not about their titular reptiles.

“Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley (and Big Mama Thornton before him) and 2000’s “Who Let The Dogs Out?” by Baha Men are both about lascivious men, not man’s best friend. (Presumably, Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” is also not about a dog.)

Shakira’s 2009 smash “She Wolf” is probably about a woman, not a female grey wolf, but either way it contains some troubling abuse. "There's a she-wolf in your closet / Let it out so it can breathe,” she sings.

Canada’s Gowan was likely referring to a woman, not a black bear, in his 1985 hit “(You’re a) Strange Animal,” in which he sings: “Well they say I should approach you with caution / But not to let you be aware of my fear.” 

And, sometimes, a song’s animal is merely a metaphor (America’s 1971 track “A Horse With No Name,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 song “Free Bird”) or an expression (The 1970 Rolling Stones track “Wild Horses”).

Of course, songwriters are well advised to do some research if they want to use animals in their songs.

Survivor got it right in their 1982 hit “Eye of the Tiger” – written as the theme song to Rocky III – when they said the titular animal "stalks his prey in the night.” Tigers are indeed nocturnal.

But, other songs have played fast and loose with big cat facts. 

In her 2013 anthem “Roar,” Katy Perry sings: “I got the eye of the tiger … and you're gonna hear me roar / louder, louder than a lion.” According to experts, a lion’s roar is significantly louder than a tiger’s.

The classic song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – written in pre-Google 1939 and made famous by the Tokens in 1961 – got it a-weema-weh wrong.

“In the jungle, the mighty jungle / The lion sleeps tonight / In the jungle the quiet jungle / The lion sleeps tonight,” they sing. Well yes, the lion is sleeping in the jungle because it’s a long way from home. Lions live on savannahs and grassy plains.

Equally unfamiliar with jungle life are wolves, so it’s not clear why Selena Gomez claims “I've been running through the jungle / I've been running with the wolves / To get to you, to get to you” in her 2017 Marshmello collab “Wolves.”

Wolves are only found in forests, arctic tundras, grasslands and deserts (and Shakira’s closet, apparently).

To be fair, Gomez could be saying that she ran through a jungle and then across grasslands – but this would be the longest trip any artist has taken on foot to get to a lover since The Proclaimers.

The premise of Nelly Furtado’s breakthrough song “I’m Like A Bird” ruffled the feathers of some ornithologists when it came out in 2000. She sings: “I’m like a bird / I’ll only fly away / I don't know where my home is.”

Thing is, birds are actually very good at making their way home and often return to the same nests after migrating thousands of kilometres.

And, whoever designed the cover of the 2005 album Monkey Business by The Black Eyed Peas clearly didn’t do their homework. It includes an illustration of a chimpanzee – which is just bananas because chimps are apes, not monkeys.

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