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13 Songs That Have Just Enough Cowbell

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Aged cowbellsI’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. Those mellow, honeyed tones provide the ideal percussive accent to so many great hits across the entire spectrum of music genres. If you’ve got sickness that can only be soothed with cowbell, these 13 songs have just enough to cure what ails you.

1. A Hard Day’s Night
The Beatles, 1968
No music list is complete without The Beatles, because they’ve basically done everything musical and iconic except maybe twerking. Rocking out on the cowbell to this song certainly makes for a hard day’s night, particularly if you’re playing it with the ferocity needed to stand out in that chorus.

2. My Way
Frank Sinatra, 1969
Even Ol’ Blue Eyes couldn’t resist the allure of the cowbell. But being the classy fellow that he is, his use is subtle – imperative to the overall sweeping sound, but almost imperceptible as a singular element. See if you can identify a higher-toned cowbell on the downbeats during the crescendo. Or just take our word for it that it’s there.

3. Honky Tonk Woman
The Rolling Stones, 1970
The cowbell opens this track like “come and get it” dinner bell for honky tonk women everywhere. Like the song’s narrator, the beat begins almost off-rhythm and unsure. But both narrator and cowbell find their groove, at least by the time they meet a NYC divorcee to share their honky tonk blues.

4. Oye Como Va
Santana, 1970
Both cows and guitarists from south of the border certainly know how to own that Latin groove. Carlos Santana’s famous lyric translates to “Listen to how my rhythm goes.” With those unforgettable instrumental riffs and the cowbell driving it home, who can say no to that?


5. Jive Talkin’

The Bee Gees, 1975
The Bee Gees will forever be legends of the disco era, in no small part to this hit. But who knew that white bellbottoms went so well with a heavy dose of cowbell? Listen to the disco breakdown midway through the song and just try to resist the funky cowbell beat.

6. Don’t Fear the Reaper
Blue Oyster Cult, 1976
This is the song that brought cowbell into the mainstream when it was parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” Whether you believe the rumors that the song is about a suicide pact between young lovers or you think this is just another melancholy love song, I think we all can agree that the cowbell is the cheeriest part of the entire track.

7. Rock of Ages
Def Leppard, 1983
Hair metal frowns upon subtlety. So naturally that cowbell beat is laid bare upfront (after the German-sounding gibberish, of course). The even, unrelenting blows behind screamed philosophies provide tense anticipation until the dramatic wave of electric guitar sweeps in. From there, the humble cowbell gracefully gives way to heavier drum beats. But for its role in the intro, the instrument is truly a rock star.

8. You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record)
Dead or Alive, 1984
New Wave might not seem like a natural environment for cowbell, which is what makes this song’s inclusion of the instrument even more striking. The monotone, driving beat is most apparent during the verses and really balances out the high tones of the synthesizer. It’s enough to keep you spinning all day long.

9. Big Pimpin’
Jay-Z featuring UGK, 1997
Upon first listen, one might be too distracted by the cheery flute or wondering what B-U-N-B stands for to notice the cowbell. But the reverberating instrument is responsible for the island flavor that is crucial to representing the big pimpin’ lifestyle.

10. That Don’t Impress Me Much
Shania Twain, 1997
Shania might not be impressed with your antics; but she is definitely impressed with the cowbell. It’s featured heavily in this song and exaggerates the downhome, country feel.

11. Britney Spears – (You Drive Me) Crazy
Britney Spears, 1998
From the outset, the cowbell in this song is clearer and stronger than any reason Britney had for dating Kevin Federline for so long. The quarter note beats don’t let up for the entire song. It might be enough to drive cowbell-haters crazy; but we think it’s just enough cowbell to feed our fever.

12. Lady Marmalade
Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink, 2002
The art of seduction is best executed when a little bit is left to the imagination. That’s why in this remake of the disco dance classic, the cowbell is coyly veiled behind the beat of a snare drum. That gives us just enough cowbell sound to keep us interested, but not too little that we have to cry for more, more, more.


13. Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell, 2013
This song is filled with fun sound effects from instruments you’d commonly find in a kindergarten classroom, including kazoo and banana shaker. But it’s the mighty cowbell that provides the effervescent, driving dance beat that made this song a memorable pop hit.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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