Cowbell rocks

The greatest SNL skit ever featured WillFerrell as a fictional cowbell player on the recording of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t fear the Reaper.” Cowbell works in comedy because it’s goofy, clanky, easy to play…unlike sophisticated and sexy rock band instruments like guitars and drums.  But if you take a listen to songs where cowbell is used…well…cowbell kind of makes them rock.

Listen to “Train in Vain” by the Clash, a great, upbeat groove with Joe Strummer’s plaintive vocals about getting dumped. Just before the song starts to fade, a cowbell kicks in. Joe’s done singing,and as he walks away from the microphone the cowbell hits like nails into his broken heart…genius.

Listen to “Welcome to the Jungle” by GNR. You hear that song in your car and you start playing along with the cowbell on your steering wheel…it holds up the song better than the bass drum. You could almost turn down all the other tracks and listen to the cowbell for 3 minutes and it would still rock.

Casino Queen by Wilco is one of the most fun songs ever by one of the most fun bands you can see today. (I once saw lead singer Jeff Tweedy bring a catering tray out from backstage and start hurling vegetables at the crowd.) The cowbell on what is arguably their biggest hit just makes your leg start to go up and down. This is the response that rock brings, and it reminds us that we are alive and that the white noise of our daily lives is only as loud as we make it.

There also is in fact a cowbell on the original recording of “Don’t fear the Reaper.” You can hear it if you listen closely, added after all the other tracks were done. It doesn’t make as much of a difference in the song as the previous examples, but if you dropped it out, anyone familiar with the song would be missing something.

Gotta have more cowbell baby.


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