Just like Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, Nazareth’s Hair Of The Dog is one of those unusual rock songs that found enormous worldwide success but didn’t have its title mentioned in the lyrics. The reason for this was simple: Son Of A Bitch, which is what Nazareth wanted to call it, was deemed too vulgar for public taste back in 1975.
“The record company flipped when we told them our intended title,” Nazareth bassist Pete Agnew remembers. “We argued that it was okay because John Wayne used the same phrase all the time, but they wouldnae buy it.”
So they looked for a similar alternative, and Son Of A Bitch evolved into Heir Of The Dog, then Hair Of The Dog – after the famous alleged hangover cure.
“It had absolutely no meaning at all!” laughs Agnew, many years later. “And nothing to do with the content of the song!”
With its strident, aggressive chorus of ‘Now you’re messing with a sonofabitch,’ Hair Of The Dog is a song the Scots band came up with during a rehearsal.
“It was based on a riff that Manny [Charlton, guitarist] had been messing around with,” the bassist recalls. “Everyone else joined in and mucked around with it, adding the stops and starts.”
Closeted away at Escape Studios, a cheap-as-chips converted former oasthouse in the depths of Kent, Nazareth eventually worked up an instrumental version of the song as a backing track. Drummer Darrell Sweet bolted on its signature cowbell part, while Charlton spiced up the mid-section further still with a talk-box guitar segment. Charlton took over the production reins from Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, who had overseen the group’s previous three albums.
Incredibly, all the basic tracks for the Hair Of The Dog album were recorded in just nine days, at a cost of only a few a few thousand pounds.
“They probably charged us more for the food we ate down there,” Agnew quips.
"Hair Of The Dog was a big, fat, greasy kahuna burger of an album that went on to become the only gold-selling eight-track in history,” Charlton later remarked.
While at Escape Studios, when it came to the song’s lyrics vocalist Dan McCafferty had merely grinned and informed his bandmates he had something up his sleeve.
“The vocals were done afterwards at Air Studios,” explains Agnew. “When we heard Dan singing the chorus we all thought: ‘This should do well.’ Such language is nothing to the stuff you hear on records these days, but back then it was considered outrageously risqué.”
In fact the album went on to sell more than two million copies in the US, where label boss Jerry Moss decided to replace Nazareth’s cover of Randy Newman’s Guilty with the band’s reworking of the Everly Brothers-popularised Love Hurts.
“Thank God for Jerry Moss,” enthuses Agnew. “But people that bought the album for their wife, having heard this lovely romantic song [Love Hurts], were in for a bit of a shock.”
Nazareth are known for their willingness to record other people’s material, having notched another worldwide hit with the reworking of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight on the previous year’s Loud ’N’ Proud album. In turn, Hair Of The Dog has been covered by Britny Fox, Warrant and former Iron Maiden singer Paul Di'Anno among many others, the most high-profile example being by Guns N’ Roses on The Spaghetti Incident? album.
“Their [GN’R’s] version was a bit of a copycat thing; they didn’t try to make it their own,” Agnew offers. “We always try to add our own personality to our covers, but that was never the point with them – Axl had always wanted to sing Son Of A Bitch. He wanted to sound like Dan.”
By the 1990s, Nazareth already knew of Axl Rose’s affection for their band, through personal experience.
"Even before they became a recording band, we did six shows in California and they came to each one,” Agnew recalls fondly. “Years later, when they were huge stars, they also showed up in the front row at one of our gigs in Winnipeg – headbanging and jumping up and down.”
Guns N’ Roses’ appreciation of Nazareth extended to Axl and co. flying guitarist Manny Charlton out to Los Angeles during the mid-1980s, where the Nazareth guitarist was among the several producers to try – and fail – to record a prototype version of the debut album that later became Appetite For Destruction.
“Manny got home after about two weeks and told me the whole thing had been a waste of time,” explains Agnew. “He said he gave up because he couldn’t get the whole band in the studio at once.”
Perhaps more surreal still, two years ago Nazareth received a writing credit when the riff from Hair Of The Dog was sampled by Girls Aloud for Sexy! No No No… which became a UK Top Five hit single.
“I though they did something really interesting with our song, though I had no idea who Girls Aloud were when they got in touch to obtain legal clearance,” Agnew admits. “By golly I know who they are now. My son kept asking whether I could get hold of any of their phone numbers.”
Understandably, Hair Of The Dog has been a must-play staple of every Nazareth show since 1975. However, at least one bureaucratic attempt was made – and failed – to get the song nixed from the set.
“We were playing two nights in Chile back when General Pinochet was still in power. It was a televised thing that went out to about 100 million people,” Agnew remembers. “On the first night, we finished as usual to Hair Of The Dog and Dan got the audience to sing the chorus back at him. It created such a furore that it made the next day’s newspapers.
“Before the second show the Lady Mayoress came backstage with an entourage and gave us an attitude. Somebody translated what she had said and it was: ‘Tonight you will not finish with that song. Do you understand?’
“Dan kept nodding away and told her: ‘Aye, no problem.’ When she left the room I asked him: ‘What the hell are you talking about? That bitch is telling us what to play.’ And he replied: ‘We’re not gonna close the show with that song. We’re gonna open with it.’”
Nazareth's new album Surviving The Law is out now.