Tuesday Ten: Cowbell

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Fev 23 2010, 15h42

A slightly more light-hearted TT this week, one that's been in the works since the recent Christmas number one (Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name, lest we forget) and hearing nothing but cowbell, it seems, in much of the Winter Olympics coverage in the past week or so, made this appropriate. Also, tools exist to add cowbell to any song you like, but today I'm looking at ten songs that perhaps already have more than enough. And don't worry, this list does not feature Blue Öyster Cult...

[As is the norm now, this is accompanied by a shared Spotify playlist, here. Feel free to add other songs that feature cowbell. And also, yes, we can argue the finer points of what is cowbell and what isn't, but if it sounds like it, it can go in...]

Beastie Boys
Hey Ladies
Paul's Boutique

From one of the albums that confirmed the use of sampling as an artform, here's one of the many highlights. Like the rest of the album, picking out all the samples would take all sodding night, but anyway, that's not the point here. This is all about the funky beats, that guitar line...and the awesome cowbell sample that dominates the chorus, sounding like it's straight out of the crowd at a skiing downhill race!

Deee-Lite
Groove Is in the Heart
World Clique

Like the Beastie Boys, this is something of a sample-fest, of which the cowbell is yet another component. But however overplayed this song may be - the amount it's played on certain music channels at points, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's been re-released again - it's perhaps difficult to get tired of it. After all, it's perhaps one of the ultimate get-the-party-started songs, with an accessibility that means everyone can get down to this.

Prince
U Got The Look
Sign O' The Times

Back from his, umm, purple patch in the mid-eighties, this is one of the singles from his classic, sprawling Sign O' The Times album, and is a song built around a simple, thumping drum beat, Prince and Sheena Easton's vocals...and an incessant cowbell beat. And, of course, I'm reasonably certain that this song would not work without the cowbell, either...

The Knife
Heartbeats
Deep Cuts

The cowbell, which is struck out in a rhythm totally at odds with the rest of the track, is perhaps the only untreated thing here. By far The Knife's brightest, sweetest moment, this quirky electro shuffle is really quite lovely, and it's such a shame that the insipid cover by José González is the version most people know about.

Groove Armada
If Everybody Looked the Same
Vertigo

One of the few times on their debut album that GA shifted gears from blissful chillout realms into the dancefloor, and the results were awesome. A chunky, bass-heavy, cowbell-assisted rhythm, and the incessant repeat of the title refrain, not to mention the old-school piano samples, this was a surefire dancefloor smash from the start. Even if the video is really a bit wierd.

Guns N' Roses
Nightrain
Appetite for Destruction

Perhaps the most prominent cowbell use in the list - basically it's one of the main parts of the rhythm, and is the count-in for the song too. Otherwise, you surely know this track, right? One of the many singles from Appetite For Destruction, this works from the classic GnR hard-rock template, and is much more palatable than the drink that apparently inspired the lyrics!

Mötley Crüe
Dr. Feelgood
Dr. Feelgood

I've been reading (on-and-off) The Dirt for ages now, and I really ought to get around to finishing it. Although even with as far as I've got into the book, it's a wonder they made it to forming a band without killing themselves, never mind beyond that. Anyway, this comes from what could be seen as the curtain-call for the heyday of eighties "hard-rock", before Grunge and Alt.Rock swept much of it away as the nineties began. It's Mötley Crüe by numbers, but it's still ace (and the use of the cowbell is awesomely simple, too).

Radiohead
Electioneering
OK Computer

A song that for various reasons, always seemed a little out of place on OK Computer. It's almost jaunty in feel and pace, for one, and it's overtly political themes also seemed a little jarring in terms of the overriding themes on the rest of the album, too. Still, it careers along at a terrific pace, the cowbell keeping frantic time during the verses, and in retrospect, is perhaps the first inkling of the political sensibilities of the band that came to the fore in the decade that followed the release of this album.

Tone Lōc
Funky Cold Medina
Loc-ed After Dark

The cowbell use comes from the sample of the Rolling Stones, as I recall, but this track is a pretty cool relic of the rap past. There isn't a lot to it, really, the beat, Tone Lōc's dry delivery, and the cowbell. But then, do you really need anything else when you have a flow (and humour) like this? (And you know what? I never knew that the title referred to a cocktail...)

Rage Against the Machine
Township Rebellion
Rage Against the Machine

Finally, back to the band that directly inspired this in the first place. But let's sidestep Killing In The Name, and look at one of the often overlooked album tracks on this still astonishing album. This track is not only notable for the relative lack of guitar pyrotechnics from Tom Morello, but also for the brilliant drumming and percussion from Brad Wilk - in which, of course, the cowbell is an integral part of a complicated rhythm...

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