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The Only Prescription: Top 10 Cowbell Songs

Thanks to a seven-year-old Will Ferrell sketch, the whole concept of cowbell in music has been turned into one big joke. Well, we're sick of it. Cowbell deserves better.

Any bunch of teenagers in a garage can get rock out of electric guitars and drums. To kick ass with some clunking cattle chimes, though, takes genius. Here are the ones who did it best.

#10.
Beastie Boys -"Hey Ladies"

Hearing the cowbell:
The multi-layered sampling on Paul s Boutique was groundbreaking for its time. However, a sparse cowbell flutter after Adrock, MCA and Mike D announce, "Hey ladies, get funky" rings out like a dinner bell triggering a Pavlovian sexual response among all females in earshot.

The Beasties were recently nominated for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. If they get the call, you know they'll be giving shout outs to Rick Rubin, the Dust Brothers and the ancient herdsman who felt it necessary to strap an oblong brass bell to their livestock.

Seeing the cowbell:

Most of this music video doesn t make a shit-wink of sense. There s a mariachi band, a scuba diver, some construction, and the influence of karate is fairly prominent. The Boys, for all their wildness and penchant for fighting (specifically, when one s inalienable right to party is in question), do, however, get serious when dealing with the really important issues. It should be noted that in the Beastie Boys handbook, "really important issues" is an academic substitute for "cowbell."

When the panty-dropping cowbell (or "CB") solo enters, all the tom foolery and other shenanigans that generally accompany a Beastie Boys video are cast aside. You ll notice the cowbell is given full attention. Afterwards, of course, the video cuts back to someone having sex with a giant fish, but the Boys are definitely aware of how important the cowbell is and treat it with the respect it deserves.

#9.
Grand Funk - "We re an American Band"

Hearing the cowbell:
CB rings out from the stadium-rock power chords throughout the entirety of Grand Funk s anthemic tribute to, well, themselves. If a band is coming to your town to help you party down, can you imagining them trying to do it sans cowbell? If the answer is yes, I hope you plan on serving them Zima, because that s what they drink.

Seeing the cowbell:

What with Charles Manson handling base, and all the inexplicable shots of the guys engaging in various water sports you almost miss the startling performance anchoring the video. Don Brewer manages to handle drums, vocals and cowbell all while holding down one of the greatest white guy fros this side of the movie Scarface.

#8.
Tone Loc - "Funky Cold Medina"

Hearing the cowbell:
Once again, "funky" is synonymous with cowbell. No doubt, it's the most potent ingredient in this old-school hip-hop concoction about an aphrodisiac that drives all the ladies, and even some trannies, wild.

A generation of young Americans embraced the baritone rapper's hit at middle-school dances across the country. The same generation would later go on to embrace roofies. Go figure.

Seeing the cowbell:

An example of just how much the CB can overcome, this song is awesome, despite containing a verse in which Mr. Loc brags that his Funky Cold Medina makes all of the dogs in his neighborhood want to hump his leg. There's another in which he has to throw a dude out of his house for trying to have sex with him. As far as brag raps, that's up their with having money hanging out of your anus as one of the worst.

#7.
Sweet - "Little Willy"

Hearing the cowbell:
CB during the chorus complements a fuzzed guitar and bawdy bass line to signal it's officially time to start fist-pumping. Strangely, the lyrics are without a whiff of double entendre. Seriously, the song is just about a guy named Willy.

Though not nearly as cool as Bowie or T-Rex, Sweet's contribution to glam, hair metal and the popularization of cowbell is far reaching. However, Cinderella mimicking their approach on "Shake Me" isn't exactly doing Sweet's legacy any favors.

Seeing the cowbell:

Lets ignore the fact that it's impossible to tell if the singer is a man or my third-grade English teacher until he opens his mouth to sing.

Way back in 1973, Sweet drummer Mike Tucker understood just how important the cowbell was to music and spends about 10 seconds before the song actually starts with his hand majestically in the air, furiously spinning his drumstick around. You can almost hear his thoughts: "Look at this hand. Everybody look at it, look at this hand. Are you looking at this fucking hand? Get a good look at it, because this is the hand that is going to spend the next 3 minutes playing the shit out of some motherfucking cowbell."

#6.
Bad Brains - "Pay to Cum"

Hearing the cowbell:
Like a damned champion. Bad Brains is a loud, frantic crazy-ass band and the cowbell keeps up with the unbelievable pace despite all odds. You can t understand almost a word that lead singer H.R. is saying (apparently, this song is actually about peace and love), and this is the clearest recording we could find. The rapid-fire cowbell, on the other hand, will not be ignored.

Seeing the cowbell:

If you're wondering why this barely discernible machine gun spray of vowels and consonants is called "Pay to Cum," just read the lyrics. Not only is the phrase apparently spoken in the song, but it also happens to be the only phrase in the song that doesn't read like it was written by a Goth kid locked up in his bedroom on prom night. What better way to overcompensate than with a nice turgid guitar riff and a steady flow of cowbell to make it all better.

#5.
Wild Cherry - "Play that Funky Music"

Hearing the cowbell:
An immediately recognizable bass riff fuels this 1976 ode to Caucasian pride. By bringing in the CB, you've got some mayo for this musical ham sandwich.

When Vanilla Ice recorded an updated version of the song, the cowbell was conspicuously absent. Had Ice abandoned the rest of the song and simply sampled the cowbell, he would probably still have a musical career today.

Seeing the cowbell:

The members of the band were reportedly worried about lead singer Robert Parissi s white-boy lyrics, but Parissi insisted that they stay. The song became an instant hit, bringing both white and black crowds together. Once again, this proves our point that the cowbell did more for civil rights and racial harmony than any one person in the history of the world. Ironic, considering that in the video the cowbell player is relegated to a shadowy spot in the back, living as an unsung cowbell-playing blur.

#4.
Nazareth "Hair of the Dog"

Hearing the cowbell:
The Scottish rockers cranked out this '70s tune with equal parts raunchy guitar and pounding CB. It's rumored that front man Dan McCafferty told producer Manny Charlton that he wanted a sound that could replicate the ubiquitous clanking emanating from under his kilt.

This song could simply not have happened without CB. When your chorus states, "Now you're messing with a son-of-a-bitch," you're not going to make your point tapping on a triangle.

Seeing the cowbell:

This is maybe the best video to highlight the cowbell s true majesty. The band is blurry, the audience is screaming over the lead singer, the guitars are too loud and rough to really hear, and who even knows if these guys have a bass player. What stands out, clear as a fucking cowbell, above all the mess?

Look, if you didn t guess "cowbell," why are you even still reading?

#3.
Rolling Stones - "Honky Tonk Woman"

Hearing the cowbell:
The distinctive CB opening is pitch perfect for the swinging country-blues jangle that follows. Producer Jimmy Miller brings the bell to life in a way that's fitting for a song lamenting that special prostitute who got away.

The Stones planned to tour China in 2003. This was one of the songs government authorities banned Mick and company from playing. It proved yet again that Communists not only fear cowbell's epididymal connection, but also its ability to promote democracy.

Seeing the cowbell:

Around 1:40 into the song, a black-and-white clip of a man getting jerked off by two women unexpectedly flashes on the movie screen behind the band. The clip looks like it was filmed sometime in the '20s, so it's quite possible that you've just seen video of Mick Jagger's first hand job.

#2.
Prince - "U Got the Look"

Hearing the cowbell:
Quite simply, if the tone of the cowbell was a spoken language, this is all it would say:

You've got the look (You've got the hook)
You sho'nuf do be cookin' in my book
Your face is jammin'
Your body's heck-a-slammin'
If love is good
Let's get to rammin'

Thank you, Prince. Thank you for translating the message of cowbell into human language.

Seeing the cowbell:

If you've ever wanted to know what Prince's dreams look like, well, have at it, hoss. Just know going in that it's almost exactly what you'd imagine.

#1.
War "Low Rider"

Hearing the cowbell:
CB dangles from this funk staple just like a pair of fuzzy dice from a rear view mirror. It's unapologetic. It's gaudy. It's sonic balls.

This didn't become a defining song of the 1970s because the story of a car with really cool shocks captured the public's imagination. No, War showed us all that you don't need profound lyrics and complex arrangements; all you really need is more cowbell.

Seeing the cowbell:

War isn t like other bands. As this video clearly shows, the cowbell isn t attached to the drum set or handed to the lead singer, or even strapped around the neck of a cow. No, someone in this band has the exclusive task of just playing the cowbell and doing absolutely nothing else. Given the importance of the CB, we think that even War isn t doing enough here. If you re going to feature the cowbell in your song (and, why wouldn t you?), you should have a team of no less than six people to handle it. Ideally, they should all have Ph.Ds.

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