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Walter White’s America

 

The use of America’s “A Horse with No Name” in the third episode of the second season of the show Breaking Bad was perfect. The clip above is not the highest quality, but the best available. (Other posters for some reason felt the need to superimpose the lyrics.)

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Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley (Photo: America’s website)

The song doesn’t play through the entire scene, but sets the mood perfectly at the beginning. Perhaps the reasons it works well is that the song is so familiar and non-threatening – while Walter White is all about a latent and explosive man masquerading as a fellow who is familiar and non-threatening.

“A Horse with No Name” and White start at the same mellow place. White is riding peacefully, singing along with the song on the radio. He gets pulled over for a broken windshield. It was broken by a body or debris from a plane disaster that he indirectly caused. His calm quickly unravels and he ends up pepper sprayed and arrested. There is something brilliant about opening the scene with the calmest of all soft rock tunes and ending it with White, awash in guilt, screaming in the back of a police car.

America also had hits with “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Lonely People” and “Tin Man.” The band, which still is together, was formed in 1970. The three principals — Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley – met in high school in England, where their Air Force fathers were stationed. The band is in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, according to Wikipedia.

Team Rock has some interesting material on the band and “A Horse with No Name.” The song, which was America’s first hit, was banned by a Kansas City radio station because it was thought to be about drugs (and that “horse” was a reference to heroin). Dan Peek left the band in 1977 and shifted to Christian music, where he had some success. He died in 2011 at age 60.

Worthy of note: The likely low point for the band was a 32-date tour of apartheid-era South Africa.

Below is “Ventura Highway.”

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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