Below is an excerpt from my interview with Dewey Bunnell of America, which originally appeared in The Houston Press.
It is one of the ’70s’ most analyzed — sometimes in jest — songs. Why does the Horse have no name? Why can no one in the desert remember your name? And why the hell does the narrator let the horse run free after nine days? If the desert has turned to sea, shouldn’t he have traded the horse for raft, or at least a life vest?
These questions, and many others, will probably never be answered about “A Horse with No Name,” a No. 1 hit in 1972 for the trio America. Formed by three sons of American military personnel who were barely out of their teens — Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek — the band would go on to have many other Mellow Gold hits including “I Need You,” “Ventura Highway, “Tin Man,” “Sandman,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Lonely People.”
While Peek left the group in 1977 to concentrate on Christian music (he died in 2011), Beckley, Bunnell, and a three-man group are still on the road.
For Bunnell, who wrote and sang lead on “Horse,” the band’s most identifiable tune is one he’s still happy to perform.
“I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten sick of it. When we were young and arrogant and we thought the song was ‘over,’ we took it out of the set. And that didn’t go down so well with promoters or fans!” Bunnell laughs.
What has changed, he says, is his relationship with the song and its meaning, as the “Horse” was originally a metaphor for a vehicle to get away from life’s confusion into a quiet, peaceful place.
“It has changed for me as I’ve gotten older,” he says. “The lyric-writing and imagery takes on new meaning,” he continues. “It also used to be more about the sights and sounds and physical aspect of the desert that I loved. Now, it takes on more of a feel of isolation and contemplating-your-navel-type stuff.
“See, I’m overthinking all of this again!” he laughs.