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 The woof is on fire

New song takes sports world by storm

Oct 16, 2000 7:00 p.m. ET

By Jeff Houck

If there's a hot burning question on the minds of sports fans today, an unanswerable query that causes them to froth at the mouth and get hot under the collar it is this:

"Who let the dogs out?"

In the pantheon of musical questions, it ranks right up there with, "Do You Know The Way to San Jose?" "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" and "Why Must I Be a Teenager In Love?"

But those songs never made 70,000 fans bark in unison.

This? This is a phenomenon.

Widespread stadium play of the single "Who Let the Dogs Out," by the Bahamian group Baha Men has launched them from obscurity to Billboard's Top 10 list and platinum album sales.

Just one run-through of the song's question prompts the crowd's roaring Pavlovian response: "Woof (pause) woof (pause) woof, woof-woof." Not since The Village People's "YMCA" has a tune so entranced the sports populace.

The song also is testament to the powerful connection between sports and music, spawning an equally important question:

"How the heck did 'Who Let The Dogs Out?' get so huge?"

No fewer than three big league baseball teams - first the Seattle Mariners and then the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox adopted it for their playoffs runs. U.S. athletes and fans even barked the chorus a cappella at the Olympics.

The Washington Redskins' defense has taken the song to heart, having it played every time the 'Skins make a huge play.

And God help any team that actually has a dog mascot and tries to deny the song's power.

Three weeks ago when the Mississippi State Bulldogs toppled the Florida Gators, tens of thousands turned their stadium into a makeshift dog pound.

"Music and sports are America's pasttimes," said Jimmy Smith, general manager of Phat Cat Records in New York City. Phat Cat is owned by Promo Only, a, Orlando, Florida-based company that sends CDs of newly released songs to disc jockeys and sports teams and leagues.

"You get a record on the radio and people who are driving in their cars may or may not hear it," Smith said. "Play it at a game at halftime with a video and you have a captive audience of 60,000 at once."

It was a Promo Only compilation CD that found its way to the Seattle Mariners in June that started the "Dogs" craze. The song was among a dozen or so others made available as a way of creating a buzz about an upcoming album or dance single.

Gregg Greene, the Mariners' promotions director, first discovered the song on one of the discs. The Mariners started pumping up the volume in the early '90s, back when they played in the drab Kingdome, which swallowed crowd enthusiasm and was always in need of atmospheric assistance. After tripping across "Who Let The Dogs Out," Greene played it as a goof around the office.

"It was fun and catchy and gets in the brain," Greene said.

As a joke before backup catcher and country music lover Joe Oliver came up to bat during one game, Greene popped the CD into the stadium's player and blasted the tune. Oliver hit a home run and went 3-for-3 at the plate that night. He requested it to be played every time he came up to bat.

Fans started calling to ask what the song was and then Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez gave it his seal of approval, calling the control room to ask that it be played before his at-bats.

"His nickname in high school was Big Dog, so he liked the song," Greene said.

As the underdog Mariners piled up wins during the year, the team played it in the clubhouse. Sportswriters took note and mentioned it in their columns. And after the team won a crucial six out of eight games during a stretch of away games in Chicago and New York, they played it during the airplane ride home.

Greene's friend Bryan Srabian, who directs ballpark entertainment at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, picked up on the song and began playing it at Giants games. From there, the song spread like a virus to every corner of the American sports universe.

"Hear it about 10,000 times and it takes on a new meaning," Greene said.

Baha Men, an ever-changing ensemble that has been around in some form since the 1970s, recorded the song earlier this year. The nine-man group specializes in a style of Bahamian dance pop known as junkanoo, which is rooted in West African rhythms and instrumentation.

"Dogs" was written and first recorded by a Trinidadian soca (soul and Calypso) star named Anselm Douglas for the 1998 Carnival festival (a later version came in 1999 from rapper Chuck Smooth). The signature line is from a woman's point of view: "Who let the dogs out?" is how women might respond to overly aggressive male suitors. Another lyric commands, "Get back, you flea-infested mongrel."

To date, the album has sold 1.5 million copies, and Baha Men's video has been on MTV and Nickelodeon. The song will show up on the soundtrack of Nickelodeon's upcoming movie "Rugrats in Paris."

The Mariners even hosted Baha Men in tribute at Safeco Field earlier this season. The members said they were baseball fans, but that the song's launch by the team made them permanent Mariners fans, Greene said.

"Dogs" is merely the latest in a long line of songs that have taken on new life as stadium anthems.

Fans of a certain age will remember watching Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates bob and weave to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" during the team's 1979 championship run.

The Orioles long ago ritualized John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" as one of their 7th-inning stretch tunes. Just about every professional sports team has played to death Kool & the Gang's "Celebration," Queen's "We Are the Champions," C&C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," and Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" ("I get knocked down, but I get up again . . . "). But the Super Bowl champion of overplayed stadium songs may be Gary Glitter's "Rock 'n Roll, Part 2," (the "Hey" song).

The NBA, which pioneered music during games, even employs a music coordinator who screens songs for language and taste before farming it out to clubs for use during games.

"You get tired of playing the same thing over and over," Greene said. "You want to stay ahead of things. But you never know when something like this is going to take off. You can't plan on it happening.

"The dogs," he said, his voice tinged with both pride and remorse at the monster he unleashed, "are just running amok."

Information from The Washington Post was used in this report.

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