How a novelty singer made a puppy tune a number one hit and helped prime teens for rock & roll

Incredible, but true. On April 4, 1953, singer Patti Page’s disarmingly soulful rendition of ”(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window” topped the nation’s pop music charts-and held on to the No. 1 spot for eight weeks. Punctuated by barks from Page’s arranger and violinist, the musical stray told the tale of a girl who desperately wanted to buy her sweetie a puppy before he took off for California. ”If he has a dog/He won’t be lonesome,” cooed Page. ”And the doggie will have a good home.” How could such a thing sell two million copies?

Perhaps the success of ”Doggie” was inevitable, given Page’s Madonna-size popularity at the time. ”The Singing Rage-Miss Patti Page” was a regular on TV and had amassed a slew of hits, most notably 1950’s ”Tennessee Waltz.” Furthermore, the public had shown a voracious appetite for goofball ”novelty songs” since the ’30s, making hits out of the likes of Bing Crosby’s ”Pistol Packin’ Mama” and Merv Griffin’s ”I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts.” Just before he unleashed ”Doggie” on the world, composer Bob Merrill helped pen ”If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.”

But ”Doggie” was the biggest novelty. The song set school kids yipping; the record’s label, Mercury, was deluged with requests for free puppies; and the American Kennel Club’s annual registrations jumped an astonishing 8 percent. ”It was a charming little song,” recalls Page, 63, who shares homes in California and New Hampshire with husband Jerry Filiciotto, an aerospace engineering consultant. ”Up to that time it was mostly teens buying records, but this one spanned all age groups. It’s still the song I’m most known for.”

Ditties like ”Doggie” actually led to teenagers’ ”fervent embrace of rock & roll” two years later, according to rock historian Michael Uslan. ”A lot of songs at that time were extremely bland, squeaky-clean stuff. The music field was ripe for something new, something vibrant to shake the rafters.” As the rock era dawned, novelty songs pretty much faded from the airwaves. Merrill headed for Broadway and in 1964 cowrote Funny Girl with Jule Styne.

Today ”Doggie” rings nostalgic, evoking an era when buying a warm puppy for your beau could more than justify his love. Page, whose last top 10 hit was the folk ballad ”Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” in 1965, gladly performs ”Doggie” in nightclub appearances around the country (she’s at Harrah’s in Reno April 23-May 5). ”I usually put it in a medley with 10 or 12 other songs,” she says, ”except in the Orient. They want to hear the whole thing.”

TIME CAPSULE: April 4, 1953
While ”Doggie” runs wild at record stores, booksellers can barely keep in stock Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney star in the now-forgotten Army comedy movie Off Limits. I Love Lucy is tops on TV, and newborn Desi Arnaz Jr. is on TV Guide‘s first cover.