The musicto community has a fever—and the only prescription is more cowbell!
Comedy skits come and go. Some become dated quickly, while others fall into oblivion over time. However, Saturday Night Live’s “More Cowbell” is alive and well, and occasionally makes its round in music conversations, even 22 years after its NBC debut on April 8, 2000.
It finally found its way into our musicto social network conversation midway through July. And yes, of course our community just had to make a playlist of our top cowbell songs!
7 top cowbell songs from musicto social network community
For the obvious reason (it’s the song that inspired Will Ferrel and Donnell Campbell to write the SNL skit) Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” tops our 7 cowbell songs playlist.
Here’s what some of our community members have to say about the six additional cowbell tracks:
Little Sister – Queens of the Stone Age
As I began thinking of a prime cowbell song beyond Blue Öyster Cult…this QOTSA track fired up promptly in my head. This band has truly mastered the art of tone, time and taste, so it’s no surprise that the cowbell on this track sounds super sweet. Fun fact: Will Ferrell joined the band live onstage with more cowbell on SNL in the early 2000s. It’s on YouTube. It’s awesome.
Night Train – Guns N’ Roses
I must admit my initial track was Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend”—but I just couldn’t bring myself to add it. It may be a fond track for some of you, but personally, it reeks of an American highschool first-love semen-stained C-grade montage.
To cut to the chase, my choice is the Gunners’ “Nightrain” from their 1987 release Appetite For Destruction. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band as a whole but certainly dug their gritty sound and image.
Low Rider – War
Whenever I think of cowbell, the one track that immediately comes to mind is “Low Rider,” from War’s seventh studio album Why Can’t We Be Friends?, released in 1975. The funky Chicano hot-rod culture anthem is a classic banger and a classic cowbell song. Not only because of how prominent Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen’s cowbell is in its composition—from the very start of the intro and throughout the entire 3 minutes and 11 seconds of the original recording—but also because of how ingrained it has become in pop culture. From Cheech & Chong’s 1978 comedy Up In Smoke to Richard Linklater’s 1993 film Dazed and Confused; from Ubisoft’s 2006 video game Driver: Parallel Lives to The Simpsons’ 2011 episode “A Midsummer’s Nice Dreams”; the Low Rider may be a little slower, but continues to prove it is a real goer. Take a little trip and see.
For the love of more cowbell
House of Jealous Lovers – The Rapture
My love of cowbell may well have started with this very track—essential listening for angsty teens yet to be introduced to the joyous fury of the cowbell.
We get strong cowbell from the off here, emerging through a scrawl of scratchy distortion to set a hurried, relentless rhythm. Disappointingly, the bell drifts off after the opening bars and you’re left thinking, “Huh, is that it? I was really getting into that”; fear not, because 3 minutes in, we get a cowbell comeback, complete with a shrill, anxiety-inducing count up from 1-8, adding to the urgency of the cowbells call, before the track erupts into full tilt dancefloor overdrive.
A cowbell crescendo might have been the only way to top this off. 9/10 cowbells from me.
For those who aren’t familiar with The Rapture’s 2003 debut album Echoes, it is a riot of sound often overlooked in the early 00s heyday for guitar bands. Worth a listen for the cowbell alone.
Funky Cold Medina – Tone-Loc
The cowbell, humankind’s most accessible instrument. From neolithic China to 19th century Alpine pastures, they’ve always been with us, ringing out, consistently cutting through the noise to let us know they’re there. And it’s not just age or ease of use that makes the cowbell so ubiquitous, it’s how it seamlessly wanders through genres. While Rock music may lay a claim to the cowbell’s 20th century reintroduction (see Buddy Holly’s 1959 release “Heartbeat”), it’s amazing to see how quickly it appears across the decades. My personal favorite is Tone-Loc’s epic rap on the dangers of the love potion. The idea of slipping an unknown substance into someone’s drink in order to get them to love you, while clearly abhorrent, has been around for as long as the cowbell. As with all good tellings of this particular story, it doesn’t end well for Mr. Loc. And I think that’s why I love the cowbell in this track—and perhaps could even want more—because it cuts through the noise, reminding us of the lessons we should have learned from history: that drugging and raping people is really fucking bad. Or as the track might say, “Don’t mess around with the funky cold Medina!”
Hey Ladies – Beastie Boys
Saturday Night Live’s “More Cowbell” sketch is one of the most popular in SNL history and the title of the skit keeps-on-keeping-on in pop culture references. Not only did NY Times journalist Marc Spitz label it “one of the first super-memes of the new century,” but the actor who first said the words, Christopher Walken, recounts that fans still bring it up.
It’s certainly one of my favorite SNL comedy skits of all time. And whenever it pops up on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network like musicto, I always click and always laugh. What makes it so funny to me is that, in the original song the skit parodies—Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”—you can barely hear the cowbell at all.
With this in mind, I went searching for the track with the most cowbell in it, because even the song with the most cowbell needs more cowbell!
Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” sat on top of lots of “most cowbell in a song” playlists. I couldn’t find any major consensus, though. In the end, I’m going with “Hey Ladies” by the Beastie Boys, because it’s a great upbeat track to finish off any top cowbell songs playlist.