Listomania – 10 Best Cowbell Songs

Guess what? Yesterday, someone came into the NME office with the new album by The Rapture. Sadly, it was only to be listened to by top brass, and thus blue collar types like myself did not hear it. I mean, I could sort of hear it blaring out the Editor’s office – the first tune sounded worryingly like U2 – but not enough to give any impression.

However, it did immediately put The Rapture back in my mind, a band of whom I am extremely fond. Back when they were whatever week’s hot band in London, and they played some of the tiniest secret shows ever (one was to 50 people and that was way over capacity). The Rapture were like a firecracker.

The Rapture

Central to their initial appeal, and subject of Listomania this week, is The 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!’

So while I am waiting for the promotion that will elevate me to the level of being allowed to hear the new Rapture album, here, in their honour, is a list of the best uses of the instrument that made them famous.

And ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ is not included, just because.

1 – 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.

2 – 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.

3 – 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.

4 – Edgar Winter Group, ‘Frankenstein’
Not “good” in any way, shape or form, frankly. But included just as an opportunity to show this quite awesomely funny clip.

5 – Credence Clearwater Revival, ‘Down On The Corner’
Released just a few short months after ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and deploying the same, simple trick, it’d be easy to argue one was copied from the other, but… who gives a flying fuck? A feelgood start to one of the most feelgood songs ever.

6 – Wild Cherry, ‘Play That Funky Music’
It would be impossible to live up to that title, frankly, without the injection of the cowbell. Look!

7 – 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 subtlely, rather than funk or histrionics. Oh yeah.

8 – 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.

9 – 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.

10 – Grand Funk Railroad, ‘We’re An American Band’
And so we come to the mother of all cowbell tracks, the best one ever. No arguments. Well, I say no arguments, that’s sort of the point of this list, to make everyone argue.

So argue! What’s the best cowbell shuffle ever laid down?

Stream these tracks as a We7 playlist: