Stories behind memorable albums of the 1970s as told by the artists

The story behind ‘A Horse With No Name,” straight from the horse’s mouth

Dewey Bunnell of the band America wrote and sang lead on the song "A Horse With No Name." (Photo by Mike Morsch)

Dewey Bunnell of the band America wrote and sang lead on the song “A Horse With No Name.”
(Photo by Mike Morsch)

There’s a sign that makes the rounds on Facebook that frequently gets posted to my timeline. It reads: “All I’m saying is, at any point during that ride through the desert, he could have given that horse a name.”

The reference is, of course, to the song “A Horse With No Name” by the band America. My friends know I am a longtime fan of the band, so that’s why this sign is frequently posted on my Facebook page.

It turns out, though, that I have a little insight on this, thanks to the guy who wrote it.

The song was written by Dewey Bunnell, who along with Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek, founded the band America in 1970. Its self-titled debut album, released in 1971, didn’t initially contain the song. But after “A Horse With No Name,” which featured Bunnell on lead vocals as well, became a hit and went all the way to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, the “America” album was re-released in 1972 with the track.

But the controversy surrounding the song wasn’t that the horse didn’t have a name, it was that some radio stations refused to play it because of its supposed references to heroin use. “Horse” is a slang term for heroin.

HorseNoNameSignI first interviewed Bunnell in 2006, and subsequently two more times over the years: once about the 1974 album “Holiday,” which is featured in “The Vinyl Dialogues,” and again recently about the making of the 1975 album “Hearts,” which will be detailed in “The Vinyl Dialogues Volume II: Dropping the Needle,” due to be released in August 2015.

And straight from the horse’s mouth, you might say, Bunnell has told me that “A Horse With No Name” is not about drugs.

“Not at all. It actually has changed a little bit in my mind as the decades have gone by,” said Bunnell in the 2006 interview.

“The central theme [of the song] was ‘solitary thinking in a peaceful place.’ The horse was really just a vehicle to get out there. I always loved the desert as a kid. ‘The heat was hot’ was an important feeling that I was trying to re-create there. [The song] was just a travelogue with an environmental message in there about saving the planet,” said Bunnell.

Bunnell said that when the band shot the cover for its third album “Hat Trick,” which was released in 1973, the photo shoot did include horses and band members did go out into the desert for a couple days to get some shots.

“We had fun, but I don’t recall the name of the horse I rode while I was out there,” said Bunnell. “A lot of horse people think I have a real working knowledge of the animal, but I don’t.”

So there you have it. Even when Dewey Bunnell had the chance to actually ride a horse in the desert, he still didn’t give it a name.

Next time I talk to Dewey, I’ll have to ask him flat out if in subsequent years, he’s ever thought if that horse he wrote about has a name.


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  1. char

    Thanks for the info. I am learning to play and sing this song and I like to share facts.

  2. Brit

    Thanks for the exposition! This is my father-daughter song because I always begged my dad to play it on repeat as a kid. My sister was like, “Do you even know what the song is about?” So my reply that it was about the environment was also correct. I like the original intention, too!

  3. I have always thought the song was not about a horse with no name but a sea horse …yes I did.

    After 9 days I let the sea horse swim free because the desert had turned to sea. The ocean absent water is a desert below with a cloud stuck on 9.

  4. Marjorie Tortajada

    My horse’s name was No Name. He died 5 months after I bought him, 10 days after he went to a new stable. He died of colic from switching grain. My heart is broken. There better be a heaven and I hope he is there waiting for me.

  5. I was 13 when I first listened to this song and I’m still playing it in my car I am 60 now. It is one of the best songs of all-time.

  6. Deborah m Mazda

    This song brings tears to my eyes. It is my favorite and it brings me back to the 70s.

  7. Liliana Dyba

    I also love this song, easy to sing! What brought it back to my memory, after such a long time (am 81years old), is that near us is a take-away cafe called ‘Un-named Cafe’ sells Korean food and today went to get some bul-gogi for my half Korean grandson and while waiting for the take away, the song came to my mind with it’s catchy la la la la la la la – makes me laugh – looked up the words for a ‘Horse with no name’ and am still smiling and will play it again ha ha ha ha

  8. Rosen

    THis brings up a lot of memories. I actually disliked America, at first, because of this song (for some reason). Then I saw the band on Midnight Special and was hooked. Then I saw them live in concert (they were the second band I saw live, the first being the Beatles in 1966). They are the reason I picked up the guitar in college and my first guitar was a Ovation 12 string (because they played those). Still love playing their music.

  9. tina m teyhen


  10. Sven

    It was my favorite song when I was 5. I got the GI Joe “Secret of the Mummy’s Tomb” playset for my birthday in 1971 and the desert theme for both always resonates with me.

  11. I recently went riding in the desert on a horse and this song got stuck in my head. Going thru the lyrics i wondered what he really meant but my interpretation was he go lost in the desert, go sunburned, thirsty, let his horse go then hallucinated mirages.

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