Every cowboy, as Poison observed, sings a sad, sad song. Similarly, the cowboy, that chap-wrapped, bean-slurping, gun-slinging he-man, catches many a rocker’s imagination. Whether it’s the romance, the endless traveling, the self reliance, the fast, precise discharging of an inexpensive handgun at close quarters, or even his work with animals, he’s been the inspiration for many a recording artist. Here are some of them…..
9. Tesla: Modern Day Cowboy
This is kind of fun, with some neat guitar breaks, and an insistent beat – it’s a longer version of what a Spinal Tap cowboy song would sound like – and argues that a touring rock band is a cowboy’s spiritual successor. Like many people who think that, Tesla downplay the moving of livestock to railheads, in favor of coming to town for a fight.
8. Blues Brothers: Theme from Rawhide
Ok, so it’s a fake rhythm and blues revue doing a song from a TV show, but it’s funny beyond belief, particularly Joliet Jake Blues’ laconic harmonies. The film also contains one of the all-time great lines “we’ve got both kinds [of music]; country and western.”
7. Bon Jovi: Wanted Dead or Alive
Bon Jovi have done several cowboy-themed numbers – which reminds me that Bronco Billy, of the 1980 Clint Eastwood comedy, was a shoe salesman from their home state who pretended to be a Wild West hero – and the toss up was this, from Slippery When Wet or the very short Ride Cowboy Ride, from New Jersey. This is the more pompous song, with some truly absurd imagery, so wins out. It’s closer to being about cowboys, too …
6. Pain: The Song of the Seven Inch Cowboy
This is a late entry – I only discovered it today – but it’s appealing in a daft sort of way and spares you Kid Rock. Think of it as a sorbet, cleaning the palate before the second course from the Garden State.
5. Jon Bon Jovi: Blaze of Glory
From the soundtrack to the self-important Young Guns II and the equally-indulgent Jon Bon Jovi goes west and poses on mountain tops. If memory serves, Britney Spears did likewise. Lyrically, the song’s little more than a series of clichés, but the music is excellent, with some really interesting percussion, and excellent slide guitar work from, I think, Jeff Beck.
4. Sting: This Cowboy Song
Sting’s always been a bit intellectual for a rocker and this assemblage of Western movie clichés into a plea for mercy is him being playful, but it’s a lot of fun, for all that it’s rather jazzy.
3. Pantera: Cowboys from Hell
Pantera, an exuberant thrash-ish band, celebrated their allegiance to the Lone Star State, while commenting on the relative scarcity of Texan metal merchants. This one’s mostly about the riffs – the late Dimebag Darrell certainly could play.
2. New Riders of the Purple Sage: Lonesome L.A. Cowboy
Although it’s set on an entirely different coast, this number always reminds me of John Voight’s attempts to sell himself to the matrons of New York in Midnight Cowboy (I preferred the movie to the book, by the way). Anyhow, here are some appealing melodies, an unblinking look at the creative process – “smoking dope, snorting coke, trying to write a song” – and a soupcon of desperation.
1. Thin Lizzy: Cowboy Song
This one, simply, is the best, featuring seminal twin guitar harmonies and the late, lamented Phil Lynott’s rich, passionate voice. It also suggests that Lynott, or co-writer Brian Downey entertained cowboy fantasies, including riding in rodeos and breaking broncos in Mexico, although the second one might just be for the sake of the rhyme. The song’s been re-interpreted by many fine bands, like Blur, Velvet Revolver and Anthrax, and the version attributed to Thin Lizzy on last.fm sounds like an uncredited cover too. Sadly, it’s a mediocre version – there’s no way that’s Phil Lynott singing – and it would be a crime to provide the link.