The lowly Cowbell, an instrument much-maligned and reduced to filling out the space in Def Leppard songs but brought to life and revitalised by some hip New York types with a simple ‘Dam-da-do-dam-da-dam!’
In honour of the beloved musical tool – here is the lowdown of 10 of the best songs featuring the precious piece of percussion.
Guns N’ Roses – ‘Nightrain’
In heavy metal, the cowbell is often used lazily – much like the “explosive feedback” that post-rock utilises when ideas are not forthcoming – in an oldest-trick-in-the-book sort of way. What they are trying to do, always, is what the Gunners do here (and on most of ‘Appetite…’): everything drops out, except the riff and a bell to keep the energy up. Simple and effective… if you can write a great riff.
Prince feat. Sheena Easton – ‘You Got The Look’
Prince being Prince, this is a genius manoeuvre, flipping the percussion to provide the hook. This kind of behaviour is where all them ace Neptunes tracks were berthed.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Honky Tonk Women’
Charlie Watts is easily the best drummer ever in rock’n’roll. By miles. People go on about Bonham or Moon, but they are soloists. As well as out-quipping Keith (on Mick Jagger: “He’s a nice bunch of guys”), he brings the swing to the Stones, with unshowy, subtle magnificence. Fitting then, that his most recognisable intro begins with the quiet tap-tap of a cowbell rather than a thunderous snare thwack.
LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
The short and sweet cowbell solo midway through what’s arguably LCD’s biggest hit will go down in history. Iconic.
The Rapture – House of Jealous Lovers
Could the opening cowbell peals make this a contender for the best song introduction of all time? Abso-fucking-lutely. The Rapture created a proper party in the cowshed with this excellent, early noughties offering.
Wild Cherry – ‘Play That Funky Music’
It would be impossible to live up to that title, frankly, without the injection of the cowbell. Look!
Stealer’s Wheel – ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’
Hopefully, enough time has passed so that this little gem is no longer the preserve of Tarantino-quoting student douches. A brilliant deploying of cowbell, to lend slinkiness and subtlety, rather than funk or histrionics. Oh yeah.
Talking Heads – ‘Once In A Lifetime’
This is good cowbell usage because it’s part of a dense mass of percussion that powers the song along. You can barely notice it’s there, but if it weren’t, you’d know about it.
The Beatles – ‘Drive My Car’
It’s customary in these kind of lists to try not to include The Beatles, just ’cos, y’know, they’re sort of the best at everything and everyone knows it. But if we’re talking cowbells it’s hard to see past ‘Drive My Car’, really. The Fabs at their funkiest, and Ringo’s bell high up in the mix where it belongs.
Queens Of The Stone Age – Little Sister
Sure, the cowbell may sound slightly like it’s being used as an upgraded metronome, but it also sounds totally banging. Top cowbell work all round.
So argue! What’s the best cowbell shuffle ever laid down?