Wednesday, 20 April 2011

9: America, “Horse With No Name/Everyone I Meet Is From California” (no.3, 1971)

The debut single of a band who, to this day, remain better known in the US (where they’re still touring) than the UK; to the extent that, for years, I laboured under the misapprehension this was actually a Neil Young track. (It’s the vocals, obviously. In the US “Horse with No Name” replaced Young’s “Heart of Gold” in the number one spot, and you suspect listeners wouldn’t have known where one song finished, and the other began.) In fact, America turn out to have been a group of beardy long-hairs, barely out of their teens, whose best-known recording translates into English, and constructs a whole journey around, the old soixante-huitard maxim “sous les pavés, la plage”. As “Horse with No Name” phrases it: “Under the cities lies a heart made of ground/But the humans will give no love”; it’s barely surprising the (solid, but not quite as iconic) B-side should concern the residents of California.

The song’s lyrical content has long been a fountain of inspiration for stand-up comedians: as Richard Jeni once put it, “You’re in the desert. You’ve got nothing else to do. Name the f**king horse.” When lead vocalist Dan Peek describes his voyage as taking in “plants and birds, and rock and things/There were sand and hills and rings”, we note the simplicity of the rhyme, and may wonder - as with Stewart Lee’s expert deconstruction of the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” - what, exactly, falls under the subcategory “things”, and what on earth Peek means by “rings”. (Was he passing through the Olympic Village? Mordor?). Still, that very naivety contributes to a rare recording with the mythos of a Biblical fable: it may just be a one-hit wonder, but it really does seem to contain multitudes.

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