I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell

Comedian Will Farrell recalls how, whenever he would hear the classic Blue Oyster Cult hqdefault-8hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” he would hear the cowbell in the mix and wonder, “I wonder what that guy’s life is like?”maxresdefault-17

He assumed the other musicians would look down their noses at him and his primitive percussion instrument, teasing him and the small part he’d play in the recording session.  Farrell co-wrote a skit for “Saturday Night Live” that lampooned the cowbell by elevating it to an exaggerated importance in the song’s arrangement.  Guest host Christopher Walken played the role of the record producer, continually interrupting the proceedings to demand “more cowbell!”  The sketch now ranks among the most popular in the show’s 40-year history.

Thousands of years ago, shepherds needed help keeping track of the whereabouts of their livestock as they wandered the meadows and hillsides.  The most effective method was to tie a bell around the animal’s neck, and when it moved its head, the clapper 90da13ccee967139a0a68d505189d64b--cowbell-she-iswould strike the inside of the bell, alerting the shepherd to the animal’s location.

Different sized bells, made mostly of wood or metal, would produce different tones, which came in handy to indicate various characteristics such as an animal’s gender or age.

The use of bells in making music dates back to the Iron Age in sub-Saharan Africa and in Medieval Europe when church bells became commonplace.  Eventually, the lowly cowbell earned a place in the pantheon of primitive percussion instruments used in a cowbell-white-background-isolated-clipping-path-55484561variety of musical genres.  Alpine bells — a full set representing two or three octaves of notes — were used in Europe as a novelty act or tourist attraction in the Northern Alps.

Since the dawn of the 20th Century, cowbells were often heard in salsa and other Latin American styles, and increasingly in popular music — folk, country and rock ‘n’ roll.

Classic rock of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s offer numerous instances of songs that prominently feature cowbell.  The Beatles made several tracks on which you can hear the cowbell as a pivotal percussion element:  “You Can’t Do That,” “I Call Your Name,” “Drive My Car.”

2922-2034-thickboxOther notable examples:

The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” starts out with a cowbell.

Led Zeppelin’s very first song, “Good Times Bad Times

The Who’s “Slip Kid

Creedence Clearwater Revival has two:  “Down on the Corner” and “Born on the Bayou.”

Hugh Masekela’s catchy instrumental piece “Grazing in the Grass

Santana’s “Evil Ways

Mississippi Queen,” Mountain

Fool For The City” by Foghat

Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth

Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band

Funk #49,” The James Gang

Stuck in the Middle With You,” Stealers Wheel

Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman

Low Rider” by War

Time Has Come Today,” The Chambers Brothers

Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo,” Rick Derringer

Stone Free,” Jimi Hendrix

Funkytown,” Lipps Inc.

She’d Rather Be With Me,” The Turtles

Dance the Night Away,” Van Halen


And, of course, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.



One comment

  1. Emily · June 16, 2018

    I didn’t even realize how many GOOD songs used it!

    Liked by 1 person

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