David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 229: America (A Horse With No Name)

February 23, 2023

Today, I am going to cheat a little with this song series. In some ways, this entry is about two bands & two songs.

Given I was not quite even into the double digits of life in the early 1970s, it should come as no surprise that two of the first things I owned related to pop music were about animals: "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo" and "A Horse With No Name." Like most 8 or 9-year old boys, I was fascinated by animals, whether stuffed or tiny and plastic. My stuffed mouse, "Templeton," had been my faithful companion all the way to Australia and back in 1969.

Here he is back home hanging out with his Aussie friends, none of whom had names.

Needless to say, once I realized that there were songs on the radio about men and women and their animals, with special emphasis on their names (or lack thereof), I was hooked. Thanks to Templeton, I was a pretty heady 9-year old who especially understood the importance of road trips with dogs or horses, named or unnamed.

While I had no idea what a Lobo was, I certainly understood the enormity of America, so their tale of a desert trek with a nameless horse seemed greater, more significant to me, than a guy, a girl, and Boo "travelin' and livin' off the land." Poor horse ain't living off of no land for his trek, no matter how much America promised "plants and birds and rocks and things" across the desert. That poor horse had to endure "heat [that] was hot and ground [that] was dry." (Yes, even at that age, I must have recognized how some of these lyrics were a bit lame.)

Whereas "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo" was rather upbeat (despite our heroes being made to do farm labor by Old McDonald for stealing eggs), "A Horse With No Name" was downright pretty bleak, even for a 9-year old. Skin turning red, river beds drying out, and the eternal quest to be be alone where "there ain't no one for to give you no pain." Boy, how did my third grade teacher not skewer that line as an example of how not to write?

Just how cruel is America? I wondered at the time. (Oh, so many years later, I feel like the answer to that question is even more scathing than I thought.) I suppose it also could have been enough to justify taking drugs as an escape. Certainly America's line that the "ocean is a desert with its life underground and a perfect disguise above" must be drug-inspired. Not enough to justify the pinheads who thought the "horse" reference meant heroin at the time (I can hear Richard Nixon spreading that rumor), but still pretty trippy.

Through it all, the instrumentation ensnares you, especially Dan Peek's bass and sessionman (one of the greatest) Ray Cooper's percussion, culminating in that "la la la lalala la la la" vocalization to close out the chorus. "A Horse With No Name" impacted me enough that when "Ventura Highway" came out a year later, I went ahead and asked for the whole album, Homecoming.  While a couple of the songs near the end captivated me, ultimately Homecoming revealed to me that America was nothing more than three long-haired guys with some acoustic guitars, still singing about road trips and possible hallucinations ("alligator lizards in the air?").

Perhaps it wasn't their fault. America, band and country, was becoming smaller to me by the time I become a "Tween," as Elton John and Queen, both musically and culturally, started to squeeze the trio out. Or, maybe I just couldn't handle them going to muskrats for inspiration. I mean we can love animals, but to dedicate songs to muskrat love? I don't think so.

America. "A Horse With No Name." America. Warner Brothers, 1971. Link here.

Day 228: The Cranberries "Linger"

Day 230: Throwing Muses "Hook In Her Head"

See complete list here.