A Horse with No Name
|"A Horse with No Name"|
|Single by America|
|from the album America|
|Studio||Morgan Studios, London|
|Genre||Folk rock, soft rock|
|America singles chronology|
"A Horse with No Name" is a song written by Dewey Bunnell, and originally recorded by the folk rock band America. It was the band's first and most successful single, released in early 1972 in the United States, and topped the charts in several countries. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
America's self-titled debut album was released initially in Europe, without "A Horse with No Name", and achieved only moderate success. Originally called "Desert Song", "Horse" was written while the band was staying at the home studio of musician Arthur Brown, near Puddletown, Dorset. The first two demos were recorded there, by Jeff Dexter and Dennis Elliott, and were 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.
Trying to find a song that would be popular in both the United States and Europe, Warner Brothers was reluctant to release Beckley's "I Need You" ballad as the first single from America. The label asked the band if it had any other material, then arranged for America to record four more songs at Morgan Studios, Willesden in London. "A Horse with No Name" was released as the featured song on a three-track single in the UK, Ireland, France, Italy and the Netherlands in late 1971. On the release, "A Horse with No Name" shared the A-side with "Everyone I Meet Is from California"; "Sandman" featured on the B-side. However, its early-1972 two-track US release did not include "Sandman", with "Everyone I Meet Is from California" appearing on the B-side.
"A Horse with No Name" was recorded in the E Dorian mode 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, when at first the group thought it was 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.
Despite the song being banned by some U.S. radio stations (most notably WHB in Kansas City) because of supposed drug references to heroin use, 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 Ireland (reaching number 4), the Netherlands (reaching number 11) and the UK (reaching number 3, the band's only Top 40 hit in the country) than it did in the United States. The interpretation of the song as a drug reference comes from the fact that the word "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 number 1 spot on the U.S. pop chart.
The song has received criticism 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." Penn Jillette asked the band about their lyrics, "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 lyrics was that they were intoxicated with cannabis while writing it. In a 2012 interview, Beckley disputed Jillette's story, saying, "I don't think Dew was stoned."
(Per back cover of 1972 vinyl issue of America.)
- Dewey Bunnell – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
- Gerry Beckley – 12-string acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- Dan Peek – bass, backing vocals
- Session musicians
In popular culture
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The song bookends the second episode of the third season of Breaking Bad, "Caballo sin Nombre" (Spanish for "Horse without Name"), where the song plays on a car radio as Walter White drives through the desert in the beginning, before being pulled over for driving with a cracked windshield. At the end of the episode the song is sung by Walter in the shower. The song was also featured in the show Friends in Season 5, Episode 22, "The One With Joey's Big Break".
The song is also featured in the movies The Devil's Daughter, The Trip, and Air America. The song is also featured on the soundtrack of the 2013 motion picture American Hustle directed by David O. Russell and 2016 movie The Nice Guys.
In the season 4 episode of BoJack Horseman "The Old Sugarman Place", the title character drives through the desert to Patrick Carney and Michelle Branch's interpretation of the song. This version also appears on the soundtrack album of the series.
Michael Jackson's song "A Place with No Name" was released posthumously 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." The song was remastered and released in its entirety along with the original Michael Jackson recording on Jackson's 2014 album, Xscape.
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||2|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||29|
|Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)||1|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||12|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||11|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||3|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US Easy Listening (Billboard)||3|
|US Cash Box Top 100||1|
|US Record World Singles Chart||1|
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