America’s “Horse with No Name” Lyrics Meaning

America’s “Horse With No Name” is founded in the narrator’s fond recollections of spending part of his childhood in the desert. And while there is some symbolism and metaphors involved, fans often attribute a deeper meaning to the song than is actually present. And in the process, they obscure the simplicity of it, as the actual theme it is based on is “solitary thinking in a peaceful place”.

But there are some symbolic aspects of this song. For instance, the “desert” serves as more than a physical location but also represents a tranquil state of mind. And the “horse” is the means by which the singer enters the desert.

So what can be conclusively ascertained and while the environment is harsh, the desert is still a place which the singer enjoys being. Indeed Dewey Bunnell even wrote this song while missing that environment due to the constant rain he was subject to in England. In fact this track was originally entitled “Desert Song” which, all things considered, is a more-fitting title. Indeed even the appellation of the titular character, the “horse with no name”, has no specific meaning.

Lyrics of "A Horse With No Name"

Inspiration behind “A Horse with No Name”

Partial inspiration behind this track, as aforementioned, was Dewey Bunnell’s childhood memories of the deserts of America he acquired while living with his dad. At that time, his dad was stationed at an Air Force base in California. More specifically he, his dad and his brother used to take road trips through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.

Additional inspirations were a Salvador Dali painting of a desert and a M.C. Escher picture depicting a horse.

Facts about “A Horse With No Name”

  • Warner Brothers Records first released this track in Europe on 12 November 1971. It came out later in the United States on 12 January 1972.
  • This was the first single America ever dropped. And interestingly, it went on to be their most successful.
  • There was a controversy surrounding this song in that many accused Dewey Bunnell, the song’s singer and sole writer, as biting the sound of Neil Young. And to help put this into perspective, it was “A Horse With No Name” that actually knocked Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” out of the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Bunnell has not denied that he was “inspired” by Young yet made a conscientious effort not to imitate him. But at the end of the day, he went on to insinuate that he and Young naturally sound similar.
  • Michael Jackson (1958-2009) created a song (which was released posthumously) that was inspired by “A Horse with No Name” entitled “A Place with No Name”(2014).
  • Back in the more-puritan days of the 1970’s, “A Horse with No Name” was actually banned by some radio stations in the United States. And why? Simply because many people though that the titular “horse” was actually a reference to heroin.

How “A Horse With No Name” fared on the charts

“A Horse with No Name” had quite a run in Europe, appearing as high as number 3 on the UK Singles Chart and topping the charts in Ireland.  However, it fared arguably better in North America, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100. At the top of this chart, it stayed for three weeks. It also topped Canada’s RPM chart. It has also been certified gold in the United States.

Appearance in Pop Media

“A Horse with No Name” has been featured on various pop media throughout the years. Examples include the following:

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
  • Friends (season 5, episode 22)
  • Breaking Bad (season 3, episode 2) which was named “Caballo Sin Nombre” (which translate to “Horse Without Name”).

5 Responses

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  2. stilllivinginthe70’s says:

    Loved this song as a young boy back then . I remember the persistent rumours that it was about a trip on hero*n and that rumour still persists to this day. Your info about the inspirations for the song clearly dispels all that misinformation in my mind. Thank you!
    The real issue with the song was the bad grammar. It went against everything we were learning in school about English grammar lol

  3. PJ says:

    When you look at the Native Americans on the cover it always made me think it was more about the plight of the American Indians and what one of them might be thinking about their past and present life situation in this land in the ways they express themselves. It’s easy for me to see that within the visual way the Native Americans speak of things.

    • Monica W Day says:

      Thank you, PJ, for your perspective of the Native Americans plight in their homeland. I haver would have considered that thoughtful interpretation. While growing up in Mesa, Arizona, as teenagers in the 70’s we used to travel through the desert for hiking, camping, and tubing down the Salt River. The Arizona desert, Grand Canyon can be very beautiful, especially at sunset, but also very harsh and challenging. “Horse With No Nome” was played and played on AM Radio and the song always made me very sad, especially when the protagonist lets his horse run free. I always thought he was allowing his beloved horse to find water and sustenance or ultimately to perish alone. When the singer reveals he is seeing birds and plants and a wonderful sea underneath the dry earth, I believed he was in a hallucinated mirage due to exhaustion, dehydration and starvation. Interesting to discover after all these years through Internet perusing, Dewey Bunnell composed and sang a masterpiece about his fond memories of desert travels. Thank you again, PJ.

  4. Wells says:

    I mostly agree with Jessica Shelton’s review of Horse with no name as “Solitary thinking in a peaceful place”. I’d take it a step further. The author is the horse, i.e., the means by which he enters the desert. The desert is his non-judgmental experience of reality and things are simply what they are. He is only thinking after the experience not during. It’s a memory of no-self. Very Buddhist like, if you will.

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