Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
A song about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid. – Randy Newman
You’re in the desert. You’ve got nothing else to do. NAME THE FREAKIN’ HORSE. – Richard Jeni
If an 8-track, shag-carpeted Frisbee could sing, it would be America. – Cracked.com
The band America and their lyrics to their breakout hit “Horse with No Name” may have been fodder for jokes, and they may have sounded so much like Neil Young that Neil’s own father called to congratulate him on the song’s success, but America (the group)’s easygoing vibe and inscrutable story were just what America (the country) wanted to hear in 1972, and the record shot to number one before its author, Dewey Bunnell, was out of his teens.
“Horse With No Name” is intense yet laid-back, soothing yet troubling, and this conflict makes it ideal for covering; no matter the surroundings, no matter the finery, it can’t help but draw all eyes and ears its way. Look at these five examples…
Seelenluft – Horse With No Name (America cover)
The popular French TV show Paris Dernière explores Parisian nightlife; its soundtracks, compiled by Beatrice Ardisson, are made up exclusively of covers, extensively reworked to make the songs perfect for all matters of after-dark exploration. Seelenluft perform an electrochilly “Horse With No Name”; you just know they’ve never seen a desert in their life, but the evocative power of the song still remains.
Arcoiris – Horse With No Name (America cover)
Arcoiris’s version of “Horse With No Name” sounds like the soundtrack to one of those Geoffrey Holder “7-Up – the Uncola” commercials. A different kind of exotic than Seelenluft’s – and about seventy degrees warmer, too.
Bobby Bare Jr. – Horse With No Name (America cover)
American Bread, Bobby Bare Jr.’s 2009 EP, collected covers of two of the key pathfinders of soft-rock (no prizes for guessing the second one) that were done in such a way that they made those bands sound – gasp! – cool. Here, “Horse With No Name” is more spare, lower key, and has a hypnotic buzz to it that makes you wonder if the narrator’s skin really began to turn red, or if it was all in his mind.
Djelem Project – Horse With No Name (America cover)
Djelem Project turns “Horse With No Name” into a fever dream, with the instrumentation seeming to come to the song rather than from it. Anyone who heard this version without knowing the song’s history would never be able to understand how someone could make jokes about it – in these hands, this song is no laughing matter.
The Loud Family – Horse With No Name (America cover)
The Loud Family like “Horse With No Name” enough that they named their debut album Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. This cover comes from Star Power!, one of a series of K-Tel tributes released by Pravda Records. Three albums’ worth of ’70s AM radio favorites as interpreted by ’90s college radio favorites made for plenty o’ irony, but they also gave the Loud Family the place to turn “Horse With No Name” into a loud guitar workout that makes sure the air is full of sound.