America Will Never Reveal the Name of That Stubborn "Horse"
It is one of the '70s' most analyzed -- sometimes in jest -- songs. Why does the Horse have no name? Why can no one in the desert remember your name? And why the hell does the narrator let the horse run free after nine days? If the desert has turned to sea, shouldn't he have traded the horse for raft, or at least a life vest?
These questions, and many others, will probably never be answered about "A Horse with No Name," a No. 1 hit in 1972 for the trio America. Formed by three sons of American military personnel who were barely out of their teens -- Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek -- the band would go on to have many other Mellow Gold hits including "I Need You," "Ventura Highway, "Tin Man," "Sandman," "Sister Golden Hair" and "Lonely People."
While Peek left the group in 1977 to concentrate on Christian music (he died in 2011), Beckley, Bunnell, and a three-man group are still on the road, with a show coming to the Stafford Centre Saturday night.
But for Bunnell, who wrote and sang lead on "Horse," the band's most identifiable tune is one he's still happy to perform.
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"I can honestly say that I've never gotten sick of it. When we were young and arrogant and we thought the song was 'over,' we took it out of the set. And that didn't go down so well with promoters or fans!" Bunnell laughs.
What has changed, he says, is his relationship with the song and its meaning, as the "Horse" was originally a metaphor for a vehicle to get away from life's confusion into a quiet, peaceful place.
"It has changed for me as I've gotten older," he says. "The lyric-writing and imagery takes on new meaning," he continues. "It also used to be more about the sights and sounds and physical aspect of the desert that I loved. Now, it takes on more of a feel of isolation and contemplating-your-navel-type stuff.
"See, I'm overthinking all of this again!", he laughs.
The song was recorded in the English farm/studio of Arthur Brown. And while the legendary British madman who scored his one hit with "Fire" was not at home at the time, others were.
"It was kind of a wacky situation. British hippies of the late '60s and early '70s were pretty out there," Bunnell recalls. "There was always a pot of brown rice cooking on the stove...colored lights...that sort of thing. And then you have the three of us, these transplanted American teenagers. We stuck together like a litter of puppies, the three of us."
Being Americans in England during the height of the Vietnam War also gave the trio a unique perspective. And their residency was no guarantee that any of them would be able to avoid the draft. Peek was actually called in for a physical.
However, Bunnell did find inspiration for at least one song, "Sandman," in his casual talks with returning Vietnam vets. Constantly afraid that they might be attacked and killed in their sleep, many of them chose to stay awake as long as possible -- either naturally or with pharmaceuticals. Thus, they were "running from the Sandman."
"It was an intense time, especially because of our generation and age, and when it's that close, you become intensely focused," Bunnell notes. "And the British press pulled no punches, they gave a very stark view of the war, and there were protests in front of the American embassy."
Coming up in Part II: Bunnell discusses why a reunion with Peek never happened, how they mix up the set list on tour, and a Houston connection that put America in very good performing company.
America plays the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Rd. in Stafford, this Saturday, August 10. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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