6 Greatest Heavy Metal Cowbell Songs
What are the greatest cowbell appearances in metal and hard rock? Glad we asked.
Ever since Saturday Night Live‘s now-classic 2000 ‘More Cowbell’ sketch, the cowbell has ascended to near mythical status in pop culture, gaining much deserved respect, but also, sadly, becoming a commonly shouted reference at shows—yelling out ‘more cowbell!’ became the new yelling out ‘Freebird!’ Neither are funny, but whatevs: dealing with minor annoyances are a part of going to gigs (and of life, really). Still, it’s nice to see the cowbell enjoy a continuing moment in the aural sun, as its brighter moments are highlighted and discussed on the web. Yes, “Honky Tonk Women,” “Hey Ladies,” “Mississippi Queen” and many others are cowbell staples, but what of rock’s heavier jams? What are the greatest cowbell appearances in metal and hard rock? Glad we asked:
6. “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE,” GUNS N’ ROSES When original Gunner drummer Steven Adler dug through his percussion bag for just the right sound to communicate the swirling, druggy haze that was/is Hollywood’s rock n’ roll jungle, he settled on one item: the cowbell, used in the choruses, and then sparingly but memorably as the sixteenth note gateway to the song’s psychedelic break.
5. “HAIR OF THE DOG,” NAZARETH Speaking of Guns n’ Roses, the Gunners messed with these Scottish sons of bitches on GNR’s ’93 covers LP The Spaghetti Incident, turning in their version of “Hair Of The Dog,” cowbell included. The original, of course, still rules.
4. “ROCK OF AGES,” DEF LEPPARD Why did Def Leppard employ rather prominent cowbell all over their 1983 breakthrough Pyromania? Because they wanted to sell over ten million copies, that’s why. ‘What do you want?‘ asked Joe Elliott. ‘Rock n’ roll’ is the correct answer, but ‘more cowbell’ is also acceptable. Still, it’s not Pyromania‘s greatest cowbell moment. That’s goes to our Number 3 (see below).
3. “FOOLIN’,” DEF LEPPARD “Rock Of Ages” may have a cowbell-propelled intro, but “Foolin'” takes the cowbell to a higher level, employing the instrument to drive the near-sinister chorus. The cowbell even gets some camera love, starting at 1:22.
2. “DON’T FEAR THE REAPER,” BLUE OYSTER CULT Thanks to the above-mentioned Saturday Night Live skit, the musical personification of the ‘more cowbell’ movement, though the cowbell is low in the mix, more wood block than cowbell. The track—BÖC’s most famous, of course—is an alternately hysterical and dreamy meditation on eternity and the transcendental power of love. And cowbells.
1. “FOR DEAR LIFE,” PRONG That classic Prong sound: crushing staccato guitars, machine gun drums, and, at 2:49, a steady, quarter note cowbell—and a dry one, at that—that serves to hypnotize before disappearing as quickly as it appeared, allowing the song’s more frenetic elements to again crash in. Is Prong at Number 1 a surprise? Not as much as hearing cowbell in such a heavy tune.