In an era of digital recordings, Pro Tools and Auto-Tune, the world hungers for musical authenticity! And what better instrument to satisfy that hunger than the ever-humble, yet equally noble, cowbell? Ever since Will Ferrell and the ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast rallied around this cause, the cries for “MORE COWBELL!” have reverberated across the land – nay, the continents! So the least we could do was add our own baritone to the chorus; here then, are the Top 10 Cowbell Songs.
From: ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)
Our first choice for the Top 10 Cowbell Songs had to involve a dynamite drummer like John Bonham, who pummeled that big-ass white whale into shape with his trusty cowbell. Although, considering how rarely Bonham returned to it in later years, with Led Zeppelin perhaps he rode the little sucker so hard that it breathed its last on ‘Moby Dick.’
Listen to ‘Moby Dick’
'Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo'
From: ‘All American Boy’ (1974)
As Rick Derringer’s 'Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo' made all too obvious, cowbells can be downright…SEXY! That's right, we said 'sexy.' Or is that sexual? Well, naughty at the very least. Is it any coincidence Derringer never equaled his biggest hit in the years that followed by failing to heed his own advice? That’s right…not enough cowbell.
Listen to 'Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo'
'Born on the Bayou'
Creedence Clearwater Revival
From: ‘Bayou Country’ (1969)
CCR's greatest musical feat – besides crafting a vast catalog of absolutely timeless songs, of course – was fooling so many people into thinking they were roughneck southern boys, when in fact they hailed from Northern California; so you surely have to credit the 'rural,' qualities of the cowbell for making songs like 'Born on the Bayou' sound so convincingly ‘suvvern.’
Listen to 'Born on the Bayou'
'Fool for the City'
From: 'Fool for the City' (1975)
Now, Foghat weren't even American by birth (British lads, one and all), and yet their mastery of the blues rock idiom ensured most folks simply assumed they were raised on a cotton farm. Not by accident, the group’s natural affinity for the cowbell left no room for suspicion – even when applied to an urban hymn like 'Fool for the City.'
Listen to 'Fool for the City'
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
From: ‘Are You Experienced?’ (1967)
In Mitch Mitchell, the Jimi Hendrix Experience possessed one of rock's most versatile percussionists; a secret weapon able to weave exotic jazz techniques into the power trio's otherworldly material. But even a sophisticate such as Mitchell could appreciate the emphatic 'bong' of a cowbell, as exemplified by 'Stone Free' — a mandatory entry in our Top 10 Cowbell Songs list.
Listen to 'Stone Free'
From: ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ (1975)
Perhaps no song has featured the cowbell quite as prominently as War's cheeky ode to Chicano hot rod culture, 'Low Rider' – check it and see. Nor have there been many other songs to introduce the instrument to a wider variety of listener given the band's incomparable cross-genre appeal throughout a career dabbling in rock, funk, R&B, jazz and, yes, Latin music.
Listen to 'Low Rider'
'Hair of the Dog'
From: 'Hair of the Dog' (1975)
Talk about mandatory: Scottish hard rockers Nazareth were clearly born to cowbell, if 1975's menacing 'Hair of the Dog' is any indication. Perhaps the band's signature tune, even considering a long career filled with memorable cuts, 'Hair of the Dog' would honestly be nothing without its driving cowbell, which is wielded like a lead instrument from start to finish.
Listen to 'Hair of the Dog'
'Don't Fear the Reaper'
Blue Oyster Cult
From: ‘Agents of Fortune’ (1976)
How could we omit the song most responsible for reintroducing the cowbell into the mainstream vernacular (via that famous SNL skit mentioned above) and, by extension, motivating this list of the Top 10 Cowbell Songs? Sure, Blue Oyster Cult's morbid love song, 'Don't Fear the Reaper,' was already a classic rock staple, but it didn't achieve cultural ubiquity until Will Ferrell and company had their way with it.
Listen to 'Don't Fear the Reaper'
'We're an American Band'
Grand Funk Railroad
From: 'We're an American Band' (1973)
As American as baseball and apple pie (and assault weapons), Grand Funk Railroad seemed like an unstoppable force around the time they unveiled this, one of their signature tunes. Produced by Todd Rundgren (no stranger to cowbells, as his own song, 'Heavy Metal Kids,’ will attest), 'We're an American Band' needs no further description – just let the cowbell do the talking.
Listen to 'We're an American Band'
'Honky Tonk Women'
The Rolling Stones
From: 'Honky Tonk Women' Single (1969)
When you're dealing with a task as challenging as choosing the number one cowbell song in existence, the only relatively safe course of action is reaching for the heavens – here represented by the world's greatest rock and roll band, The Rolling Stones. And how can you go wrong with perhaps the raunchiest song ever written, “Honky Tonk Women,' even though the prevalent cowbell heard throughout was allegedly banged, not by Charlie Watts, but the song’s producer, Jimmy Miller – clearly a man not afraid to tell a band when they need “MORE COWBELL!”