More Cowbell! Less Cowbell!
It started for the youngsters in 2000, when “Saturday Night Live” first telecast the sketch pictured above. It was called “Behind the Music: Blue Öyster Cult,” but later became (in) famous simply as the “Cowbell Sketch.” Yeah, the Cult had a cowbell in its song “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” but you know that was about the only true-to-life thing in this short, delightful bit of fantasy.
We saw Blue Öyster Cult play live last summer, and during the intro to “Reaper,” singer Eric Bloom (who Will Ferrell’s character seems patterned upon) did a sort of “air cowbell” but even though his hands were empty, we heard a cowbell! Turns out some clown in the audience had one. Of course.
Anyway, we come back from a long and distracting work week with his lame bit of nonsense, featuring some of the greatest cowbell rock songs of all time. Please excuse any rust, I haven’t written a blog post in a while. So – I’m sure you can check the internets for a comprehensive list of rock songs featuring the cowbell, and I invite you do to so if that’s what blows yer skirt up. I just want to talk a little bit about the cowbell its own bad self, and explore the reasons why it may have found its way into rock songs. Well, it’s cheaper than a drummer and doesn’t require much coordination (or rhythm, if that guy in the Blue Öyster Cult crowd is any indication).
Well, that was a shallow well … what about cowbells as noisemakers during sporting events? The only place where they could have some effect would be in the confines of a gymnasium, during a basketball game. I do know at the University of Texas (and many other schools in the NCAA) bans noisemakers like cowbells, whistles and air horns. And maybe thunder sticks too, if that’s what also blows up yer skirt. Certainly vuvuzelas, those are annoying in any context. Oh man, I’m dyin’ here.
Let’s just listen to some music with cowbells (not the usual suspects, except for maybe one or two) and I’ll tack on the date the song first appeared. Perhaps one day we can talk about sleigh bells in rock music – maybe Brian Wilson can guest on “SNL” and they can create a whole new skit!
MP3: “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers (1966) (Long version, with more and “psychedelicized” cowbell!)
And the all-time greatest rock song featuring cowbell: “Honky Tonk Women,” by the Rolling Stones. This video is from the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour from 1994 or so … and how awesome is Keith Richards playing that famous riff one-handed? It’s that open-G tuning he keeps his guitar in; read his book.