A Horse with No Name

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"A Horse with No Name"
Single by America
from the album America
B-side "Sandman" (Dewey Bunnell) (US); "Everyone I Meet Is From California" (Dan Peek) (UK)
Released January 31, 1972
Format Vinyl record
Recorded 1971, Trident Studios
Genre Folk rock
Length 4:08
Label Warner Brothers
Writer(s) Dewey Bunnell
Producer(s) Ian Samwell
Certification Gold (RIAA)
America singles chronology
"A Horse with No Name"
(1972)
"I Need You"
(1972)
file info · help

"A Horse with No Name" is a song written by Dewey Bunnell, and originally recorded by the band America. It was the band's first and most successful single, released in early 1972, topping the charts in several countries.[1] It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.[2]

Development[edit]

America's self-titled debut album was released initially in Europe with only moderate success and without the song "A Horse with No Name." Trying to find a song that would be popular in both the United States and Europe, "A Horse with No Name" was originally called "Desert Song" and was written while the band was staying at the home studio of Arthur Brown, in Puddletown, Dorset. The first two demos were recorded there, by Jeff Dexter and Dennis Elliott, and was intended to capture the feel of the hot, dry desert that had been depicted at the studio from a Salvador Dalí painting, and the strange horse that had ridden out of an M.C. Escher picture. Writer Dewey Bunnell also says he remembered his childhood travels through the Arizona and New Mexico desert when his family lived at Vandenberg Air Force Base.[3]

Composition[edit]

"A Horse with No Name" was recorded in the key of E minor with acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drum kit, and bongo drums. The only other chord is a D, fretted on the low E and G strings, second fret. A 12-string guitar 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. Produced by Ian Samwell on the day of final recording at Morgan Studios, at first the group thought it too corny and took some convincing to actually play it. Gerry Beckley has explained in Acoustic Guitar magazine (March 2007) that the correct tuning for the guitar is D E D G B D, low to high. The chord pattern that repeats throughout the entire song is: 202002 (Em),then 020202 and 000202. The tuning is unique to this song; they did not use it on any other America song.

Reception[edit]

Despite the song being banned by some U.S. radio stations (including one in Kansas City, Missouri) because of supposed drug references,[4] the song ascended to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and the album quickly reached platinum status. The song charted earlier in the Netherlands (reaching number 11) and the UK (reaching number 3) than it 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 aroused some controversy. "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." By coincidence, it was "A Horse with No Name" that replaced Young's "Heart of Gold" at the #1 spot on the U.S. pop chart.

The song has also been ridiculed for its banal, 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."[5][dead link] Penn Jillette asked the band about their lyric, "there were plants, and birds, and rocks, and things" after a show in Atlantic City, where America opened for Penn & Teller. According to Jillette, their explanation for the lyric was that they were intoxicated with cannabis while writing it.[6] In a 2012 interview, Beckley disputed Jillette's story, saying, "I don't think Dew was stoned." [7]

Personnel[edit]

(Per back cover of 1972 vinyl issue of America.)

America
Session musicians

In popular culture[edit]

The song was one of many popular songs quoted and parodied on the album The Third Reich 'n Roll 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.

The song was covered by a band in the bar Robin Williams' character hangs out at in the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam.

Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things was the title of the 1993 debut album by The Loud Family, and was quoted by songwriter Scott Miller in the first track, "He Do the Police in Different Voices" ("Maybe plants and birds and rocks and things can justify my day").

The song has been covered by Larrikin Love with somewhat Celtic-sounding instrumentation and style for Q magazine in 2006.

The song is also featured in the movies The Trip and Air America. It also appeared sung by members of a hippie group, 'The People' in Series 3 of HBO's Six Feet Under, in the episode: 'Tears, Bones and Desire' as the women make mops.

Also featured in Hideous Kinky, a British-French 1998's film, during a trip on the Moroccan desert.

In 2008, it was used in a Kohls[8] TV commercial for Vera Wang.

It can also be heard in season 2 of Millennium, in the episode "Owls".

It was featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the fictional classic rock radio station K-DST.

The song bookends the third season episode of Breaking Bad, "Caballo sin Nombre" (Spanish for "Horse with No Name"), where the song plays on a car radio as Walter White drives through the desert in the beginning and is sung by Walter in the shower at the end.[9]

The song was also featured in the show Friends in Season 5 episode 22, The One With Joey's Big Break.[10]

In the episode "Bill's Autobiography" on NewsRadio, Dave Foley's character was found singing the song on an audiotape on which he records his thoughts.

Michael Jackson's posthumous song "A Place with No Name" was released by TMZ as a 25-second snippet on July 16, 2009. The snippet closely resembles "A Horse with No Name." Jim Morey, both Jackson's and America's former band manager, has stated that "America was honored that Michael chose to do their song and they hope it becomes available for all Michael's fans to hear."[11]

In 1999, the literary magazine Lamia Ink published a short play by American playwright Meron Langsner entitled The Name of the Horse, in which the problem of the horse's name is explored. The play is also included in a collection of parodies entitled The Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse published by Indie Theatre Now.

In The Simpsons episode called "Haw-Hawed Couple", Homer tricks Bart and Lisa into thinking they're busy arguing so they can have their time alone. They accidentally throw a piece of clothing at the tape recorder and "The Horse With No Name" plays.

The manner in which American band Drive-by Truckers' song "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" (The Big To-Do, 2010) begins, nods to A Horse with No Name.

The song is also featured on the soundtrack of the 2013 motion picture American Hustle directed by David O. Russell.

Charts[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
Canada (RPM) 1
Finland (Finnish Singles Chart)[12] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[13] 4
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) 11
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company) 3
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 3
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1

References[edit]

  1. ^ "A Horse with No Name" USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  2. ^ RIAA. "RIAA Gold & Platinum Database". Retrieved September 25, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Highway Highlight (from the box set booklet)". Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Liner notes, Highway Highlight". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved June 11, 2006. 
  5. ^ John Mendelsohn (1972). "Rolling Stone Review". Retrieved March 12, 2006. 
  6. ^ Jillette, Penn. (2012). Gilbert Gottfried Again! (Episode 14, 2012/05/21). Penn's Sunday School. Ace Broadcasting Network.
  7. ^ Patch.com (Dec. 19, 2012) "Q&A With America Singer Gerry Beckley". 
  8. ^ splendAd - Kohl's - Simply Vera Spring 2008 commercial
  9. ^ AMCTV (2010). "Walt Gets Arrested". Archived from the original on 1 April 2010. Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  10. ^ IMDB (1999). "The One with Joey's Big Break". Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Place with No Name sounds like Horse with No Name". news.com.au. July 17, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  12. ^ Billboard: p.53. October 7, 1972. 
  13. ^ Search for Irish peaks

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Heart Of Gold" by Neil Young
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 25, 1972 (three weeks)
Succeeded by
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack