1972 – No. 1 Chart Toppers Pop Hit: “A Horse with…

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1972 – No. 1 Chart Toppers Pop Hit: “A Horse with No Name,” America on this day in rock history!

Lyrics:

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

You see Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After nine days I let the horse run free
cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

You see Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

Development

America’s self-titled debut album was initially released in Europe with only moderate success and without the song “A Horse with No Name.” Looking for a song that would be popular in both the United States and Europe, producer Ian Samwell helped the group to record the song and persuaded the Warner Brothers label to re-release the album with “Horse with No Name” included.

Originally entitled “Desert Song,” the song was renamed at Samwell’s suggestion. It was written on a rainy day in England, in 1971, and was intended to capture the feel of the hot, dry desert Bunnell remembered from his childhood travels through the Arizona and New Mexico desert when his family lived at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Composition

“A Horse with No Name” was recorded in the key of E minor with acoustic guitars, bass guitar, and bongo drums. The only other chord is a Dadd6add9, fretted on the low E and G strings, second fret. A 12 string plays an added F# (second fret, high E string) on the back beat of the Em. A noted feature of the song is the driving bass line with a hammer-hook in each chorus. A “waterfall” type solo completes the arrangement and may have been borrowed from the Dan Peek song “Rainy Day”, also on the album. {Peek, Dan: An American Band; Xulon Press; 2004}

Reception

Despite — or perhaps because of — the song being banned by some U.S. radio stations (including one in Kansas City) because of supposed drug references the song rose to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the album quickly went platinum. The song did chart earlier in The Netherlands (reaching number 11) and the UK (reaching number 3), than it actually did in the United States. The interpretation of the song as a drug reference comes from the fact that “horse” is a common slang term for heroin.

The song’s resemblance to some of Neil Young’s work stirred some grumbling as well. Incidentally, it was “A Horse With No Name” that bumped Young’s “Heart Of Gold” out of the #1 slot on the U.S. Pop chart. “I know that virtually everyone, on first hearing, assumed it was Neil,” Bunnell says. “I never fully shied away from the fact that I was inspired by him. I think it’s in the structure of the song as much as in the tone of his voice. It did hurt a little, because we got some pretty bad backlash. I’ve always attributed it more to people protecting their own heroes more than attacking me.”

This song has also been ridiculed for its banal and/or oddly phrased lyrics, including “The heat was hot”; “There were plants, and birds, and rocks, and things”; and “‘Cause there ain’t no-one for to give you no pain.” Randy Newman once described it as a song “about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid”. Comedian Richard Jeni mocked the song’s title. “You’re in the desert,” he said. “You got nothing else to do. Name the freakin’ horse!”

The song was one of many pop songs quoted and parodied on the The Third Reich ‘n Roll album by The Residents. In 1987 the Danish rock band D-A-D made a cover version released on the album D.A.D. Draws a Circle. Furthermore, the song has been covered by Larrikin Love with somewhat Celtic-sounding instrumentation and style for Q Magazine in 2006.

The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, played by one of its fictional radio stations, K-DST. The song is also featured in the movie The Trip. In 2008, it was used in a Kohls TV commercial for Vera Wang. It can also be heard in season 2 of Millennium, in the episode “Owls”.

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