Posts Tagged ‘cruelty to animals’

History: America’s Greatest Hits

In 1972 I was one of the legions of musically jaded 16-year-olds who sneered at America’s “Horse with No Name” for this blatant imitation of Neil Young. Of course I played it when no one was around. It’s a drug trip, man! The narrator is wandering in the desert with no flight plan, on board a horse it never occurs to him to name. And the words – more than a hundred repetitions of “La”! What is he smoking, and can I have some?

You can’t outrun the song’s driving bass line. But if you stop mindlessly singing the lyrics and actually hear the words, you’ll be struck by America’s awesome powers of description:

On the first part of the journey,
I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings.

That’s a lotta nouns. “Things” pretty much covers everything that isn’t a plant, a bird, or a rock, but just to help us out they mention sand, hills, and rings. So this must be a drug trip because the guy is in the middle of a wasteland on a horse he can’t identify and he’s hallucinating about jewelry.

I could continue but this would lead us to the last line, “But the humans will give no love,” which I suspect they took from another song. I’ll instead point to their liberal use of prepositions in “’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain,” which Bruce Springsteen echoed 15 years later in “Tunnel of Love” when he advised us “to ride on down in through this tunnel of love.”

Enough with the literary sneering. America’s oeuvre may showcase their way without words, but those boys knew how to write a pop song. “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “I Need You,” and “Lonely People” (which doesn’t make a lick of sense) make my brain freeze, but they are perfectly constructed pop numbers that will annoy snobs like me for another century. Unfortunately, America is guilty of salvaging the malodorous “Muskrat Love,” possibly from a garbage scow, and turning it into a hit. This led to another version, likewise a hit, by The Captain & Tennille! Surely this act of artistic cross-pollination violated some ban on chemical warfare.

Here’s the bottom line on America. One morning in my junior year, a bunch of us on the way to school sang “I went to school on a bus with no name/it felt good to outrun that old train.” We made up the lyrics as we went along and we were still laughing when we got to class. We had America to thank. We never did name the bus.