The Cowbell: Propelling Music Forward in the 80’s

Christopher Walken: “I got a fever… for cowbell.”

The cowbell.  Even on cows it sounds good.  Who would have thought… somewhere along the winding road of music an artist would say, “This song is great.  But… it needs something.  How about… some cowbell?”

In the Cowbell Skit on Saturday Night Live featuring Christopher Walken and Will Farrell (which is hilarious), Will Farrell and crew are covering Blue Oyster Cults “Don’t Fear The Reaper” for Walken.  There is a lot of cowbell in Don’t Fear The Reaper.  Perfect Cowbell.

My first memory of cowbell in a song is Loverboy’s Working For The Weekend.  The cowbell hits me in the face:  doink! doink! doink! smash!  And the music begins.  When I listen to this song.. the lyrics do not make much sense to me.

Random Lyrics From The Song

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Everyone’s looking to see if it was you

Everyone’s trying to get it right.

You wanna piece of the show, c’mon baby let’s go!

But the song is so damn catchy.  I don’t think many care that the lyrics are so random.  I don’t.. that’s for sure.  “Everybody’s Working For The Weekend.”  That is the only part that matters.

In 1987  Guns ‘N’ Roses broke ground with their album Appetite for Destruction.  I was fourteen years old, looking to rebel and there was Guns ‘N’ Roses blowing hair metal over the cliff like a tree in a windstorm.  Their epic tune “Night Train features a perfect mix of cowbell, screaming guitar and a still screaming Axl Rose.  The song is about getting wasted (I think?).

Random Lyrics From The Song

Wake up late honey put on your clothes
Take your credit card to the liquor store
That’s one for you and two for me by tonight
I’ll be loaded like a freight train

Guns ‘N’ Roses helped artists of the 80’s put down the hairspray and get a little more serious about the music.  There is a picture of Axl Rose on the AFD sleeve with cautiously poofy hair.  He has it there and a few moments in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video… never saw it again.  He probably figured there was cowbell on the album, so poofy hair was redundant.  Probably not.

Mötley Crüe, or Nikki Sixx rather (bassist for Crüe) wrote “Live Wire” in 1981.  I recently read The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx (which is an awesome, disturbing read) and he talked about this song.   I got the impression that he was basically warning the world that a bunch of bad asses were coming and no one.. NO ONE would stop them.

This song became one of their classics and is in my top five Crüe songs of all time.  There are two instances of cow bell in this song at just the right moments.

Random Lyrics From The Song

Take my fist to break down walls
I’ll top tonight, no, no
Better turn me loose
Better set me free
‘Cause I’m hot, I’m young, running free – little bit better than it used to be

These are my cowbell song mentions.  Do you know any others?  Do you think the songs I listed need more or less cowbell?



9 responses to “The Cowbell: Propelling Music Forward in the 80’s

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