The Horse with No Name – A Horse with No Name

Confused by the title? Fair. Not confused at all by the title? Good for you. You win a ride on these gantry cranes. If the title does not confuse you, then I must assume that you are familiar with the hit song by the band America, entitled, “A Horse with No Name.” This song was the first single the band wrote, and was released in Europe (1971) before it was released in the US (1972). Might seem strange that a band called America released a hit single in Europe before the song was released in the US, but the band was actually formed in England, the members being sons of US servicemen. Fun fact.

Fun fact the second, the band’s debut album, entitled simply America, did not contain A Horse with No Name. And the album didn’t do too well. “A Horse with No Name” was written in England, when the band was staying at a friend’s house in Dorset. The song was apparently inspired by two paintings, the first being the depiction of a desert by Salvador Dali (above), and the second one featuring a strange horse, which was created by M.C. Escher. And if you’ve seen either of these painters’ art, you can understand why the song inspired by their work is a bit strange, and even unnerving.

Something I didn’t know until doing a little bit of research is that the song was actually banned on some US radio stations (which I can only imagine made it that much more popular, as banning things usually does) because of its suspected allusion to drug use. Being street-stupid as I am, I had no idea that “horse” had ever been used to refer to heroin, but the sources prove me wrong. Apparently that was a thing, and thus the suspicion concerning the meaning of the lyrics. Band member Dewey Bunnell, along with the other members, absolutely denied that the song had anything to do with drug use, but, taking a closer look at the lyrics, I guess I can’t blame people for having second thoughts.

The song is one that has been famously ridiculed by a number of critics for its lyrics. So many of them are … well, just weird. Seems to me that the song starts out not in the desert, that is, our narrator is somewhere with lots of life, and he’s looking at the “plants and birds and rocks and things.” Then he encounters a fly, and everything gets hot and dry. This be the desert.

He goes on to explain that he’s “been through the desert on a horse with no name,” and that “it felt good to be out of the rain.” Okay, fair enough, I guess, if you don’t like being wet. Then he starts talking about how red his skin is turning thanks to the blistering sun in the desert, and I’m kind of concerned about the horse at this point. Next verse, he lets the horse go, because he’s reached the ocean. What he plans to do now, I don’t know. Is there a boat? He then goes on to say, ever so sagely, that “the ocean is a desert with its life underground” … I mean … not really. Underwater, I suppose, but not underground. I don’t know, I think the horse was probably glad to be rid of this guy.

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