A Horse with No Name
Writer(s): Dewey Bunnell (see lyrics here)
Released: November 12, 1971
First Charted: December 18, 1971
Peak: 13 US, 13 CB, 12 GR, 13 HR, 3 AC, 1 CL. 3 UK, 11 CN, 2 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.6 UK
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 18.59 video, 458.75 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley were American kids who were sons of fathers in the Air Force based in England. They met at London’s Central High School, a school primarily for children of military families, FB and “bonded over the shimmering, heavily harmonized folk-rock that was coming out of California. When they started a band, they called themselves America because they didn’t want anyone to get the idea that they were English kids trying to sound American.” SG
They released their self-titled debut in the UK in 1970. They wanted to release the ballad “I Need You” as a single, but the label was more interested in releasing a new song the band initially called “Desert Song” which they thought “would be a fun little novelty…that…was too weird to be a big success.” SG The non-album single was named “A Horse with No Name” and took off. When they released it in the U.S., the song was added to the debut album.
The song is “about finding an existential epiphany after a trip through the desert.” SG Bunnell, who was 19 when he wrote it, said it was about “solitary thinking in a peaceful place.” SG He was “inspired by a homesickness for America and the desert countryside he remembered when he lived briefly at Vandenberg Air Force base” FB in California.
The song “is hazy and memorable” SG despite some “real lyrical clunkers…that nobody older than 19 would’ve been able to sing with a straight face;” SG lines like “There were plants and birds and rocks and things” and “The heat was hot.” Of course the question the song has raised since the beginning is why doesn’t the protagonist name horse after nine days in the desert? Bunnell also distractingly “sounds a whole lot like Neil Young” SG with his “very distinct vocal tone, an airy high-lonesome quaver.” SG
Despite that, “’A Horse With No Name’ works. There’s a warm, cloudy sense of mystery to the song. The band (and the session musicians who filled out the song) play with a real confidence. It’s full of neat production touches: murmuring bongo drums, a politely meandering bassline, a darting-hummingbird dual guitar lead that nods to flamenco without giving into it altogether. The harmonies add a mythic out-of-time quality even as they imitate what Young’s buddies Crosby, Stills & Nash were doing at the time, and the arrangement builds to a pleasant swirl.” SG
First posted 7/13/2022; last updated 12/6/2022.