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"A Horse with No Name" - America

Hi! And welcome to the spotter syncs blog.

  So I’ve had some feedback recently that it might be nice to feature some simpler, or “easier” songs in the Spotter Sync Blog.

  And when I tried to think of the “easiest” song I knew, the first one that came to mind was: “A Horse with No Name.” by the British band: America.

  It’s one of the first songs I teach my guitar students, and one of the first songs I learned to play. I got it from some easy guitar song book a million years ago: just two chords, over and over again! I called’m hopscotch chords because here’s all they do, just—together, apart, over and over. That’s the whole song!

  Or so I thought.

  Turns out, as is often the case when you get the old magnifying glass out and pop the hood—the song wasn’t as clear cut as I thought it was. But it’s still pretty graspable, so let’s take a look!

  First of all, we’re in a Mode: Dorian, which is like minor, but it has a raised 6th scale degree.

  So yeah, Modes…I wouldn’t call them any more or less ‘simple’ or easy’ than major or minor. They’re just different that’s all, and it’s just fun to spot’m, like seeing a blue jay—just like oh, a blue jay, sweet. I mean you don’t have to call the president or anything.

  Moving on: the tempo’s around 122, fluctuating about 8 BPM. 4/4 time, and about 4 minutes long.

  I think one of the reasons the tempo fluctuates so much is because they probably didn’t practice the tune a lot before recording. I mean the band didn’t even really want to record it. It was just that their producer, Ian Samwell, convinced them to cut it on the day of final recording cause they had some time.

  See, the group thought it was “too corny,” at first. And ain’t that always the case with the #1 single’s? It’s always the corny ones you record on the last day.

  Anywayz, the form of the song is I-V-C-H-V2-C-H-S-V-C-H-H-H-H-F(H)

  A couple of interesting things in the form are:

  -The Intro is pretty short, just two changes.

  -Also, the length of the second Verse: it’s two stanzas less than the others, making it six instead of eight.

  -And as far as the “La-la” Hook goes, it could have also been labeled as an interlude/pre (P) and that would have been fine, or you could even consider it to be a part of the chorus. I don’t really think it is though, mostly because it exists by itself, without the chorus, at song’s end here, a bunch of times.

  On to the chords.

  Contrary to what I’d learned from the songbook, the guitar isn’t in regular tuning; it’s in a funky tuning I’d never seen before that goes like: D E D G B D. It’s what I’d call “a tuning with no name!” The chords I learned from the songbook were just doing their best to supply similar sounding chords in regular tuning. And they did a pretty good job, but let’s look at the actual dingers.

  The authentic Chords and their names would be thus:

  Em, and 2 types of D - i and bVII:


  Em is fingered: 202002 = E E E G B E


  D6add9/F# is fingered: 020202 = D F# D A B E


  D6sus2/B is fingered: 000202 = D E D A B E


  Lot of second frets eh guitar players?

  Oh, BTW, If you don’t know regular guitar tuning, I’ll just tell you that they changed the bottom two strings, and the top E string. But I’m not sure why they changed the high E. I mean, if you want to play this song the way they did it, there’s really no reason to tune the high E string different, since it’s fretted up 2, back to the E that you changed it from, in all three chords. Go figure.

  Also, there’s this cool 12-string overdub you should listen for.

  Alright, now we gotta decide what happens when the bass comes in. We gotta decide whether the bass notes change the chords themselves, or whether they just become inversions.

  And this is really hard, because these chords, for lack of a better term—are really tonally wishy-washing. That’s right, wishy-washy--like the kid from summer camp who can’t decide what girl he has a crush on, even though everybody else in the cabin already said who they liked!

  So yeah they’re kind of hard to name, they’re like chords with no names!


  D6add9/F#  =  F#m11#5


  D6sus2/B = Bm11


  So if we think of it this way, with these chord names, the base line gives the changes a “two”(ii) sound with the “F#” on beats 5&6, and a  ‘five’(v) sound with the “B” on beats 7&8, giving the song a quasi- 2^5^1 sound.

  But in Dorian, as opposed to the more common Major or Minor, the 1-2-5 chords are all minor.

  This is cool because: “2-5-1’s” are probably the most common changes in music, but in Dorian they have a much different flavor, especially when you add all the suses and adds, neutralizing the chords themselves, or making them “wishy washy.”

  A flavor with no name?

  But yeah, whether you go off the guitar chords, and the song being a “i - bVII” two-chord song, or a “i - ii - v” three-chord song, you’re correct in your own way. It really is that wishy-washy.

  Though, If I absolutely had to choose one or the other, I’d go with the two-chord option, because when I just play unaltered Em and D chord triads, it sounds way more like the song I’m hearing on the record, than when I play the un-“wishy-washified” Em(i), F#m(ii), and Bm(v) triads.

  Last, let’s talk about the La-la’s. Most of the la-la hooks have a pick-up “la,” but not the first one, and it’s left out in other places as well, at seemingly random times.

  Also, the characteristic raised 6th “Dorian” note is only just kind of ghosting about in the lead part: (4) 5 b7 b7\6 5 4 4. He kind of just falls on it then lets it go right away.

  However, the harmony has a real solid Dorian 6th in it, at its beginning and end: (6) b7 9 9\8 b7 6 6. So that’s cool.


  Alright! Let’s give it a Sync!


  [Does the Sync.]


  And that’s that. Thanks for watching the Spotter Syncs Blog, we’ll see you next time!