For the first time in a little while, this is a post that had it’s initial gestation in the pub last week. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but within seconds I was getting a barrage of suggestions of songs involving horses, so as usual, it was time to send for the cavalry in the form of the suggestion thread.
/Tuesday Ten/379/Horses In My Dreams
Horses and humans have a long, long relationship – it’s reckoned that domestication of the horse began nearly 6,000 years ago, and the horse has since been used for transporting of people and freight, in sport, in war, as food and in entertainment – and likely a few other uses besides. As I found out here, too, it has also featured an awful lot in song – vastly more than other animals, perhaps.
There was an unexpectedly enormous number of suggestions this week. No less than 216 suggestions were entered, with seven non-runners in the form of songs I’d used before. 104 riders brought along 146 unique contenders, and ten made it to the final furlong for consideration. As ever, thanks to everyone – including a number of new entrants – who took the time to suggest songs, as there was an exceptional field this time around and it was a tough one to decide upon.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
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/Ride a White Horse
Easily one of Goldfrapp’s greatest songs across their now near two decade career, this bursts its way into your brain from the opening seconds of the pounding beat, and only gets better from there, as Alison Goldfrapp laments the cheapening of fun nights out, where the decadence has perhaps gone – the title apparently alluding to the legendary party at Studio 54, where Bianca Jagger entered her birthday party atop of a white horse. I’m not especially convinced that a horse in a club is a good idea (although it was a select audience that night, nowhere near capacity), but as a display of “anything goes” it was hard to top – and perhaps unsurprisingly was one of the reasons why the club became the place to be seen at. That, and Goldfrapp have always had something of a decadence about them, particularly in their live shows, where Alison has been known to wear a horse’s tail…
/A Horse With No Name
Remarkably a band still active and touring, their biggest hit and best known song remains their debut single. A song that sounds extraordinarily close to Neil Young’s style (particuarly the vocals), the song is rather one of a mass of American songs generally that deal with the idea of escape, into the desert and away from the seething mass of humanity in bigger cities – and if you’re escaping technology and a world marching forward, what better method of transport than a horse, that animal that was so crucial in supporting migrating pioneers that were striking out west a century before, and later on was an integral part of the Western films that created the popular view of the “Old West”, whether it was correct and accurate or not…
/Give Me Walls
Long a scorching, seething highlight of Cold In Berlin’s incendiary live shows, this track one of a handful on that debut album to give us an idea just how powerful a band they could be. While they’ve slowed down their sound to a more doomy style nowadays, they’ve not left songs as good as this behind, at least. The White Horse here appears to be the idea that there is no saviour for the protagonists, the Knight with his White Horse to rescue them and take them to a better life. The variety of significance of the White Horse across history, religion and location is extraordinary – but what is clear is that pretty much to anywhere that had horses over time, the White Horse was important regardless.
A song best known for use in The Silence of the Lambs, it is, all told, a curious song with an even stranger history. Written and released by an obscure New York singer who vanished in the aftermath, back to her regular job life (only “rediscovered” recently), it has imprinted on many in ways most singers would die for. It is certainly a “lightning in a bottle” moment, a glorious, understated song that crackles with emotion.
One band that covered it, Psyche, help to explain that the idea of the horses here are based on Hindu philosophy that sees your senses as horses leading you in a chariot, and “Goodbye Horses” sees the subject of the song leaving the senses and the real world behind. An appropriately bleak subject for a song that has such a history.
/Horse and I
/Fur and Gold
Talk about a scene setter – the opening song on the debut from Bat for Lashes is a fantastical, quasi-medieval throwback, as she imagines being a female hero astride a horse in some far-off world, as the “chosen one”. At least in Western mythology, that hero is almost always male, so this is neat bit of switching to make her the hero, and the music sweeps and swells dramatically around her, the synths sounding like old-world harpsichord. But the horse is an important element, that’s for sure – her steed for the long journey ahead, and a sign of power in this world that she has one to ride.
/The Man Comes Around
/American IV: The Man Comes Around
The white horse returns again in Johnny Cash’s last truly great song, released just a year before his death in 2003. Rick Rubin had the bright idea of giving Cash a guitar and recording him singing a number of broadly contemporary covers and a handful of his own songs in 1994, which resulted in a series of albums called the American Recordings, and it both resurrected his career and opened a whole new audience to the Man in Black. American IV both had a heartbreaking cover of Hurt (which revealed just how frail Cash was by this point, in the video), and this song – where he delves into Revelations and invokes a dramatic vision of the apocalypse, and the horse(s) in question? The four horsemen of the apocalypse, with the white horse of Pestilence, and the pale horse of Death. This album – and this song in particular – had the feel of Cash staring down Death himself as he prepared for his own end, and this song works nicely as an astonishing epitaph to a barely believable career.
/Coal Black Horses
/16 Horsepower EP
Still broadly in the world of Country music – a genre that needless to say has involved a whole lot of horses over the years – I’ve had no joy in identifying the particular song, but apparently the name of this darkest of alt-country bands was inspired by an old American folksong, “a man…singing about sixteen horses pulling the coffin of his wife to the graveyard” (source), a song that I’ve not yet been able to identify the provenance of. One of their earliest songs is this tale of sin and redemption, but I’ve never quite been able to work out where the Coal Black Horse comes in – I suspect once again there is a symbolism here that I’m missing. Either way, it’s an extraordinary song.
/Misery Is A Butterfly
The only song that I’m aware of that was inspired by the writer (Kazu Makino in this case) being seriously injured by a horse, this oddly melodic, catchy song appears to be something of a verbal message to said horse, where Makino promises that no harm will come to the horse as a result of what has happened, despite her injuries. It’s certainly a deeply affecting song when you know the back-story, and also still retains a bit of the angular menace of the band’s earlier material (their wonderful first album, Fake Can Be Just As Good, is a noisy riot of guitars).
/Anne’s Everyday Equestrian
One of the more remarkable bands to garner mainsteam attention in the years either side of the millenium, Add (N) to X were some years ahead of their time in their strict adherence to the use of analogue, vintage electronics and synths, and as a result sounded very different to anyone at the time. Few other bands were releasing singles about sex with robots (and with an explicit video to go with it), either, but that’s by the by. This song, though, is one of three deeply odd interludes on their best, fiercest album. Each member of the band has a track named after them (Barry 7’s Contraption, Steve’s Going to Teach Himself Who’s Boss, and this) – and this track is a choir of synths and treated voices accompanied by horse neighs and gallops to provide a beat. It’s deeply strange, even weirder in context of the album (as it is sequenced directly after three of the best tracks the band ever released), and is the one song by the band that my wife truly hates (but she still suggested it for this week’s list).
/Ket Is For Horses
At points more of a meme than a blistering dancefloor tune – although it’s frankly both – it’s one of a select handful of songs to satirise and comment upon drug usage within clubbing. Researching this week’s post, too, has taught me a few things. Like the fact that Ketamine, aside from a well-known use as a veterinary anesthetic, particularly for horses, it was used in the Vietnam War as a surgical anesthetic. I’ve never quite understood the use of such a drug as a clubbing high, though. I’d surely want something more…euphoric? But anyway, each to their own, and yes, I’ve rather gone off on a tangent as I was talking about horses…