A Horse with No Name

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"A Horse with No Name"
Single by America
from the album America
  • "Everyone I Meet Is from California"
  • "Sandman"
Released November 12, 1971
Format 7-inch single
Recorded 1971
Studio Morgan Studios, London
Genre Folk rock[1]
Length 4:08
Label Warner Bros.
Songwriter(s) Dewey Bunnell
Producer(s) Ian Samwell
America singles chronology
"A Horse with No Name"
"I Need You"
Audio sample

"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 late 1971 in Europe and early 1972 in the USA, and topped the charts in several countries.[2] It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.[3]


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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] "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. [7] 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. [8] 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,[9] 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[10]) 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.[11]

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."[12] 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.[13] In a 2012 interview, Beckley disputed Jillette's story, saying, "I don't think Dew was stoned."[14]


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

Session musicians

In popular culture[edit]

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

The song was featured in Hideous Kinky, a British–French 1998 film, during a trip on the Moroccan desert. In 2008, it was used in a Kohls[15] TV commercial for Vera Wang.

It can also be heard in Season 2 of Millennium, in the episode "Owls". It can be heard on an episode of The Simpsons, "The Haw-Hawed Couple". In another episode, "A Star Is Born Again". Ned Flanders can be heard singing it, with alternative lyrics. The song is heard in the background of season 3 episode 16 of "Parks and Recreation". 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 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,[16] 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".[17]

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 2014, the song was featured in an advertisement for the Toyota Auris Hybrid.

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.[18]

Musical references[edit]

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

The song "Face" by American rock band Aerosmith released in 2001 bears a strong resemblance towards "A Horse With No Name".

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."[19] The song was remastered and released in its entirety along with the original Michael Jackson recording on Jackson's 2014 album, Xscape.

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

Other references to the song[edit]

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

The song also appeared in a film about a CIA front company,Air America, from 1990.

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").

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.

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.

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 "The Haw-Hawed Couple", Homer and Marge trick 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 "A Horse With No Name" plays.

In computer game NetHack, when the player character dismounts an unnamed horse, the game issues the message "You've been through the dungeon on a horse with no name", or, when hallucinating, "It felt good to get out of the rain."[20]

In the October 7, 2015 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Colbert, wearing a big and furry hat, proclaims that the titular horse's name is "Gary the horse".

In the Reno 911 season five episode "Junior Runs for Office", after consuming an entire pan of hashish brownies, Junior panics upon learning that "A Horse With No Name" is not available in the jukebox of the bar that they are in.


Chart (1972) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 2
Canada (RPM) 1
Finland (Finnish Singles Chart)[21] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[22] 4
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) 11
UK Singles (Official Charts Company) 3
US Billboard Easy Listening 3
US Billboard Hot 100[23] 1
US Cash Box Singles Chart 1
US Record World Singles Chart 1


  1. ^ "VH1's 40 Most Softsational Soft-Rock Songs". Stereogum. SpinMedia. May 31, 2007. Retrieved July 31, 2016. 
  2. ^ "A Horse with No Name" USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  3. ^ RIAA. "RIAA Gold & Platinum Database". Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2008. 
  4. ^ http://www.dorsetlife.co.uk/2015/06/decadence-and-depravity-with-added-cheese/
  5. ^ "Highway Highlight (from the box set booklet)". Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2008. 
  6. ^ Rosen, Craig (September 30, 1996). The Billboard book of number one albums: the inside story behind pop music's blockbuster records. Billboard Books. 
  7. ^ Guitar Noise [1]
  8. ^ Guitar Coach Mag [2]
  9. ^ "Liner notes, Highway Highlight". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved June 11, 2006. 
  10. ^ "America singles charts history". Official Charts. The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  11. ^ America biography at Billboard
  12. ^ John Mendelsohn (1972). "Rolling Stone Review". Archived from the original on October 2, 2007. Retrieved March 12, 2006. 
  13. ^ Jillette, Penn. (2012). Gilbert Gottfried Again! (Episode 14, 2012/05/21). Penn's Sunday School. Ace Broadcasting Network.
  14. ^ "Q&A With America Singer Gerry Beckley". Patch.com. Dec 19, 2012. 
  15. ^ splendAd - Kohl's - Simply Vera Spring 2008 commercial
  16. ^ AMCTV (2010). "Walt Gets Arrested". Archived from the original on 1 April 2010. Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  17. ^ IMDB (1999). "The One with Joey's Big Break". Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Hear Patrick Carney, Michelle Branch's New Song for 'BoJack Horseman'". Rolling Stone. 
  19. ^ "Place with No Name sounds like Horse with No Name". news.com.au. July 17, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  20. ^ NetHack source code
  21. ^ Billboard: 53. October 7, 1972. 
  22. ^ Search for Irish peaks
  23. ^ "America Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.

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