When I heard someone made a documentary about the song Who Let The Dogs Out? I had the same reaction as you probably just did. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it and then attempted to remember if I knew anyone who actually liked the song. Perhaps most importantly, this thought ran through my head—who wants that song stuck in their head for some 90-odd minutes?
Well, I owe director and co-writer Brent Hodge, and screenwriters, John Diemer, and Jasleen Kaur, along with host Ben Sisto a great big apology. Who Let The Dogs Out, the documentary which shares a title with the infamous song is a thrilling story of copyright litigation, history scrubbing, betrayal, obsession, and that’s all in the first 20 minutes. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, this is a not a movie that delves into the formation of the Baha Men, nor is it bio-pic about any single member or the group as a whole. They play a somewhat minor role in the grand scheme of things.
When Ben Sisto moved to New York City, he did not have a spouse, children, or a demanding job. While in the public library one day, he noticed an incomplete citation. A person that helped get the song into the hands of a music producer was listed with only his first name, Keith. Sisto wanted to correct the poor source, and this led him down a proverbial rabbit hole from which he wouldn’t emerge for years to come.
Anslem Douglas, a Trinidadian musician and composer, played a song, Doggie, during the 1998 Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. Famed hair stylist Keith Wainwright attended the carnival as often as possible and had a habit of recording his favorite songs from the celebration. Wainwright is close to music producer Jonathan King, who discovered Genesis and was one of the first two people to back The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Wainwright gave musical wunderkind a copy of the tape; an annual delight. King was always eager to receive. King immediately grasped onto the Anslem Douglas track and did a rough version of how he heard it in his, with himself on vocals. This awful track was released under the band name Fatty Jack And His Pack Of Pets.
“Anslem Douglas, the Baha Men, Jonathan King, Keith Wainwright, the two now grown Jacksonville rappers, lawyers in involved in the cases surrounding the song…all of whom want their side of the story told…”
Steven Greenberg, the founder of S-Curve Records, got King to agree to let his band the Baha Men to do the song justice. After some coaxing, the group decided to record the track. This takes us to the release of the admittedly catchy song in 2000. However, starting in 2001 Douglas was being sued by Patrick Stephenson and Leroy Williams, how wrote the hook of this song as a commercial jingle. Douglas was a client of the same label, so he lost that suit.
Shortly after the Baha Men song dropped, Seattle Mariners director of promotions Gregg Greene, chose the song on a lark, to play for backup catcher Joe Oliver. Everyone on the team loved it, as did their fans. Thus, Who Let The Dogs Out was a staple during the season for the team, who had an incredible year. However, that was not the first time a sports time used the song.
In 1998 Michigan State University used a version recorded by Chuck Smooth. But wait, there’s more to this already convoluted saga. In 1992, two Jacksonville high schools kids with aspirations of becoming famous made a few sample tracks, including one with the phrase “who let the dogs out” and the barking noises. Moreover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 20-Finger Productions and their singer Gillette. She released a track titled Who Let Them Dogs Loose?
There are several more names and colleagues and people who lay claim to have written this song; a whole town in Michigan, Dowagiac, even gets in on the action. Ben Sisto, who hosts a presentation on this complicated issue—a talk the movie uses as a springboard—did eight years of research and was still discovering new material while filming Who Let The Dogs Out.
“…Sisto wanted to correct the poor source, and this led him down a proverbial rabbit hole from which he wouldn’t emerge for years to come.”
Anslem Douglas, the Baha Men, Jonathan King, Keith Wainwright, the two now-grown Jacksonville rappers, lawyers in involved in the cases surrounding the song and other major players, all of whom want their side of the story told, sit down for interviews. Brilliantly, neither Sisto, nor Hodge, approach their subjects, nor the song at the heart of the matter, with malice or irony.
There is a sequence where Sisto brings two floppy disks to a data preservation specialist for them to be correctly cleaned up. Then he tracks down the same kind of machine the songs on the discs were recorded with and played them. The build-up to Sisto and the audience, hearing what is on them will have you on the edge of your seat.
The editing is terrific, taking the time to breathe when necessary. This happens mainly during the interviews, to ensure that each person gets their just desserts. But, in moments like with the floppy disks, or discovery of a high school sports team in Austin, Texas from 1986 chanting and barking contentious phrase the movie has the allure of the best thrillers.
I know how that sounds. A documentary about an upbeat, female-empowering dance song is thrilling and enthralling? Seriously? But it is true. In Who Let The Dogs Out Brent Hodge and Ben Sisto approach their subjects seriously and layout a fascinatingly tangled web. In doing so, they’ve crafted a riveting must watch.
Who Let The Dogs Out (2019) Directed by Brent Hodge. Written by Brent Hodge, John Diemer, Jasleen Kaur. Starring Ben Sisto, Anslem Douglas, Jonathan King, Keith Wainwright, Gregg Greene, Steve Greenberg, Patrick Stephenson, Leroy Williams, the Baha Men.
10 out of 10 Loose Dogs