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Nobody knows who you are!
One night in 1983, I was watching MTV at a friend’s house when a new song premiered that captured our attention. It was an offbeat, new wave song, that featured men wearing trench coats and dog masks, they were, Dog Police. We were quite taken with the video and would try to watch it whenever it was on after that. While some strange music videos had made it to MTV, this one was on a higher level. So how did this odd song and video make it to television? To answer that question, we need to travel back a few years.
In the vibrant musical landscape of the early 1980s, amidst the rhythmic heartbeats of the music mecca, Memphis, a trio known as the Tony Thomas Trio embarked on an unconventional journey. Formed in 1979, this jazz ensemble consisted of the talented keyboard-vocalist Tony Thomas, the groovy bassist Sam Shoup, and the rhythmic virtuoso drummer Tom Lonardo. Together, they concocted a fusion of sounds that resonated with the progressive-tinged fusion jazz-rock vibe reminiscent of iconic bands like The Mothers of Invention.
However, nestled within this trio's repertoire was an intriguing side project, a venture into the quirky realms of new wave music. Thus, Dog Police was born. It was a novelty band that emerged with Thomas, Shoup, and Lonardo assuming the pseudonyms Clark Radio, Squeek Owens, and Random Ax respectively, the trio found inspiration in the avant-garde spirit of new wave pioneers like Devo.
In 1982, Dog Police unleashed their creativity upon the world with their self-published album, aptly titled 'Dog Police.' Featuring ten eclectic tracks, including the notable "1-800," which itself spawned a music video and offered a glimpse into the band's eccentricity. Other tracks like "Are You Middle Class Enough?" and "Positive Reinforcement" showcased their ability to blend humor and melody seamlessly.
Yet, it was their eponymous track, "Dog Police," that etched their name into the annals of music history. Legend has it that during a late-night recording session, the band's spontaneous rendition of the song caught the attention of studio engineers. Intrigued by its catchy lyrics and melody, the studio offered to record the entire album for free, propelling Dog Police into the spotlight.
(woof! woof! woof! woof!)
Where are you coming from?
Nobody knows who you are!
The chorus of the song, as seen above, drew some controversy. Sure it was catchy, it was also very familiar. That is because it shares a lot of the same lyrics as the chorus from the theme of the "Spidey Super Stories" segment that aired from 1974 to 1977 on the TV show, The Electric Company. Similar enough, that when they attempted to turn the Dog Police into a TV show (read all about it below), they would change these lyrics.
The song's narrative painted a peculiar picture of a blind date gone awry. Set mostly in the Lone Star bar, the tale unfolds as a young man finds himself captivated by a woman deeply entrenched in the "canine scene." Amidst a flurry of bizarre events, the woman is eventually apprehended by the enigmatic Dog Police, leaving the protagonist in bewildered fascination. The song's infectious chorus, echoing the enigmatic cry of "Dog Police! Where are you coming from? Dog Police! Nobody knows who you are!", added to its undeniable charm.
The accompanying music video, a visual spectacle directed by Joe Mulherin and produced by Wayne Crook, further amplified the band's eccentric persona. The camera work by Larry McConkey is especially memorable. Especially during the chorus of the song.
In the video, Tony Thomas, as the protagonist, embarks on a surreal date with a woman sporting a dog mask, while the band members donned trench coats and hound-faced detective masks, blurring the lines between reality and absurdity. To this day, I am still not sure what this video is about, but I can’t stop watching it.
Dog Police's high point arrived in 1983 with their participation in MTV's Basement Tapes, a platform that celebrated unsigned bands. Their "Dog Police" video won the semi-final round, earning them recognition and a devoted fan base. Although they peaked at the second position in the finals, the band's unique blend of humor and music left an indelible mark on the viewers. Which only helped to keep this earworm alive. What happened a few years later is a real surprise.
Intriguingly, the Dog Police saga did not end with music alone. In 1990, an ambitious television pilot titled 'The Dog Police' was produced, featuring three dog-faced detectives armed with extraordinary powers. Although the pilot never aired, it speaks to the power of this compelling, but confusing concept. If you thought the video was unusual, wait until you watch this.
Nowadays, this pilot is often cited as “terrible.” I am not so sure about that. It is certainly bizarre and a bit low budget, but I find that charming. Plus, you have two up-and-coming actors making appearances. Jeremy Piven appears as a beat cop, and Adam Sandler plays "Shifty," an ex-criminal who works with the Dog Police. If Sandler is looking for something interesting and memorable to produce for his Netflix deal, I would like to suggest a Dog Police motion picture.
As the chorus of "Dog Police" continue to reverberate through time, it stands as a testament to the audacious spirit of experimentation that defined the 1980s music scene. Its popularity might have peaked in the eighties, but the fandom has remained, and the album was re-released in 2019 on vinyl and digitally by Toxic Toast Records. Sadly, it is currently sold out.
Dog Police was a band born from the unconventional musings of a talented group of musicians. It might be just a footnote in musical history, but it’s a great reminder that sometimes, the most extraordinary songs (and videos) can emerge from the quirkiest of inspirations.
woof! woof! woof! woof!
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