Songs that lend a voice to the equestrian world in a way only music can.
It is my passion to highlight the intersection between horses and music. This passion takes me on musical journeys to discover the latest and greatest that have found inspiration from the equestrian life, as well as archeological-like digs to unearth the intriguing tales behind classic horse songs.
As an escape from the winter weather, today I’d like to share the tale behind a horse song about escaping some bad weather for the bone dry desert air. I’m talking about, of course, America’s “A Horse With No Name.” Take a listen to refresh your memory on the tune.
The song was written by America band member Dewey Bunnell in an attempt to mentally distance himself from the relentless English rain. You see America the band was actually formed in England by three sons of U.S. services men who were stationed there. So despite their sunshine pop sound, these boys actually knew a lot more about rain showers.
But, Bunnell’s childhood also included time at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California’s high desert and drives through Arizona and New Mexico. It was these images that he fondly remembered when he penned “A Horse With No Name.” Now that all makes sense, but it doesn’t answer the question: “What’s with the horse?!”
And that’s because the lyrical inspiration for “A Horse With No Name” came from not one, but three places. The first was Bunnell’s actual desert experiences, but the other two were more artistic in nature, and that’s where the horse comes in!
On the walls of Arthur Brown’s home studio, where Bunnell was writing, there were two notable works of art. One was a painting by Salvador Dali that depicted a desert scene. While it’s unclear exactly what work it was, I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess it was Dali’s “Savage Beasts in the Desert.” I spy “plants and birds and rocks and things,” in this painting. Not to mention horses!
The other work that hung in Brown’s studio was by M.C. Escher. Bunnell has been quoted as saying he was also writing about “the strange horse” that was ridden in an M.C. Escher picture. I bet it was Escher’s Horseman (No. 67). Those certainly are unusual horses.
The one thing Bunnell adamantly denies is that this classic is about drug use. “Horse” can be a slang term for heroin, and given that this song came out in the early ‘70s, many listeners were skeptical that there wasn’t a hidden meaning. In fact, several radio stations refused to play the song based on the mere implication of impropriety.
But Bunnell, particularly in later years, is much more thoughtful on the metaphorical meaning of the horse: “I see now that this anonymous horse was a vehicle to get me away from all the confusion and chaos of life to a peaceful, quiet place.” Sounds like the work of a real horse to me, albeit one in desperate need of a name!
So what should we call this desert horse of infinite fame? I think we should call him ‘Artist.’ After all, he was born out of master works, served as the inspiration for one chart-topping song in the 70s, and continues to spur creativity today.