On March 25, 1972, America - the band, not the country - found themselves with the sort of success that every artist dreams of achieving with their first single: a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
Produced by Ian Samwell and penned by band member Dewey Bunnell, “A Horse with No Name” originally began life as “Desert Song” while America was staying at Arthur Brown’s home studio near Dorset, England (the same Arthur Brown whose Crazy World had a huge hit with “Fire”). Although the song wound up on the band’s self-titled debut, it wasn’t on the LP when it was initially released in the U.K. Indeed, it wasn’t until almost six months after it hit record store shelves that America - at the behest of Warner Brothers - went back into the studio to record demos for a potential radio hit, since the label believed that their original choice for a first single, “I Need You,” might not break the band wide open.
In the liner notes for the band’s 30th anniversary box set, Bunnell detailed the birth of the song. “I wanted to capture the imagery of the desert, because I was sitting in this room in England, and it was rainy,” he explained. “I had spent a good deal of time poking around in the high desert with my brother when we lived at Vandenberg Air Force Base [in California]. And we'd drive through Arizona and New Mexico. I loved the cactus and the heat. I was trying to capture the sights and sounds of the desert, and there was an environmental message at the end. But it's grown to mean more for me. I see now that this anonymous horse was a vehicle to get me away from all the confusion and chaos of life to a peaceful, quiet place."
As music history reveals, “A Horse with No Name” took radio by storm, and it did so not just in America’s namesake, where it topped the charts, but it was a Top 5 hit in the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, and it also went to No. 1 in Canada and Finland.
Would it have been that successful if it had remained under the title “Desert Song”? We doubt it.