31 Songs Anyone Who Loves Horses Needs to Hear
Spanning Aretha Franklin to Kurt Vile, this playlist is good for anyone who wants to feel strong, exhilarated, and wild right now
Like birds, horses in art represent freedom and beauty. Unlike most birds, there’s also a terrifying unknowable magnitude to the horse. Whatever your stance on the ethics of humans’ long working relationship with horses, we can happily celebrate them in song form, from country to blues to electronica to whatever it is that Brian Eno is up to. Since a lot of us are staying at home to mitigate the growth of COVID-19, I’ve made this larger than usual, and aimed to keep its contents fairly unpredictable: a whopping big playlist for a whopping big animal.
1. “Iron Horse” — John Barry
Kicking us off at a canter is this lively instrumental by composer John Barry, best known for coming up with the James Bond Theme and providing the music for memorable Bond songs such as “Diamonds Are Forever,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Goldfinger,” plus countless other film and television scores. This is early work from Barry, and it has a very Ennio Morricone sound to it — or perhaps vice versa, considering they both rose up at a similar time.
2. “Wild Horses” — Teena Marie
No, not that “Wild Horses” — this is a sultry slow jam, from the cake batter-voiced Teena Marie.
3. “Wild Horses”— Perry Como
No, not that “Wild Horses” — this is classic crooner Como wearing his Bing Crosby influence on his sleeve. Given his propensity for nonsensical novelty songs, this is a surprisingly robust and purposeful number from old Mr C.
4. “Wild Horses”— LaBelle
Finally, the “Wild Horses” you’re thinking of, and if I may, the superior version — I defy anyone to hear that opening howl from Patti LaBelle and disagree.
5. “Bring on the Dancing Horses”— Echo & the Bunnymen
In the manner of Pavlov’s dog, I hear a wobbly-chinned tremolo and immediately start feeling emotional. And then the thought of dancing horses makes me even more emotional, and, well, it’s a very fraught three minutes and fifty-six seconds for everyone. Perhaps the horses don’t want to be brought on? Perhaps they want to sit in the grass and eat oats?
6. “High Horse”— Kacey Musgraves
Country goes disco — Musgraves executes everything with expertise, including this.
7. “Runaway Horses”— Belinda Carlisle
A gratifyingly arms-wide-open slice of shimmering late eighties pop.
8. “Ride a White Horse” — Goldfrapp
Despite being 15 years old now, there’s a concentrated, quiet vigor to this electro song which is quite ageless, and still thrilling.
9. “Horse” — Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins, Leo Abrahams
Rather oblique, as one could expect from Eno, this sounds like seventeen different ASMR videos playing simultaneously. And though there are no words, a certain nostril-flaring horsey sense of danger is suggested through its incessant rattling and humming.
10. “Iron Horse/Born to Lose” — Motörhead
The band re-recorded this for their 1979 album On Parole, effectively creating two different songs — this one more crunchy with a keening guitar solo, and the later version more low-key and introspective. As with peanut butter, I prefer it crunchy.
11. “500 Horses” — Cousin Stizz
Cruisy, with a compelling staccato chorus.
12. “Horse Betting” — HM Surf
A sweet, wordless lullaby.
13. “A Horse Named Cold Air” — Mitski
I just think about Mitski and need to lie down; I’m lying down right now as I type this. An unhurried and moving track from her incredible album Be The Cowboy.
14. “Horses of the Sun” — Bat For Lashes
You know any song which begins by saying “I curse the road” is going to be good.
15. “Horses in My Dreams” — PJ Harvey
16. “All the King’s Horses” — Aretha Franklin
Though she’s primarily remembered as a definitive interpreter, Franklin was also an excellent songwriter, as we see here. This begins in a deceptively mellow fashion but pays off with a glorious build.
17. “Darkhorse” — Emma Ruth Rundle
Spacious, ominous and gorgeous.
18. “I Chose Horses” — Mogwai
If you want to feel as though you’ve watched an exquisitely sad film, but don’t have the time, here! Try this.
19. “Concrete Pony” — Ghostpoet
Lush and swoony with beguiling, almost sleepy-sounding vocals from the acclaimed musician’s most recent release.
20. “Buy Me a Pony” — Spiderbait
Fantastically bratty, a song to drop-kick you out of lethargy with the sudden desire to head-butt someone.
21. “Ride Your Pony” — Betty Harris
Brilliant, vibrant soul which sounds like an instant hit and yet somehow wasn’t — fortunately the proliferation of music on the internet allows us to appreciate Harris’s skills today.
22. “Mustang Sally” — Wilson Pickett
The “Mustang” in question here is the car named after the horse, and not the horse itself, but what a song. I could happily listen to this every day for the rest of my life and not grow weary.
23. “Dark Horses” — Delaney Davidson
Precisely the sort of melancholy, folky, country song a horse deserves.
24. “Buckskin Stallion Blues”— Townes Van Zandt
You know when you look at a scratchy pen-and-ink drawing, but can see the entire full-color world the artist intended to convey in those brief, narrow lines? That’s how listening to Townes Van Zandt feels.
25. “The Pale Horse and His Rider” — Hank Williams, with Audrey Williams
A comfortably sinister hymn, with delicious nasal harmonizing from Williams and his wife Audrey.
26. “One Trick Ponies” — Kurt Vile
That repetition of “loved you all a long, long while” sounds all the more winning every time it comes around. One Trick Ponies has the vibe of a final montage in a low-key indie film starring, oh, Clea DuVall and David Cross, the film is fine but the music is great and sticks with you long after the plot is forgotten.
27. “Freedom for the Stallion” — Lee Dorsey
The sunshine warmth of the music belies the ache of the lyrics. Slow and beautiful.
28. “Shetland Pony Blues” — Son House
Emotional and spirited. Delta blues pioneer Son House recorded this at Klack’s Store in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi in 1941—the store had the necessary electricity required for the recording, and if you listen closely you can hear a train passing through in the background.
29. “Tennessee Stud” — Johnny Cash
A simple but stunning song from Cash’s eighty-first album, not so much a comeback as a reframing, and the start of a fruitful professional relationship with producer Rick Rubin. As if he already knew of its imminent success, Cash sounds relaxed and in good humor as he sings about the legendary titular horse, with that singular voice as evocatively heavy as a dropped pie.
30. “The Headless Horseman” — Joe Satriani
If a horse could play guitar, I imagine this absolute break-neck galloping sprint of a tune from the remarkably dexterous Satriani is the sound that horse would produce.
31. “Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)” — Patti Smith
Permit me my one obvious inclusion, with this adrenaline-drenched song — is there anything more pupil-dilatingly exhilarating than when Smith starts chanting the word “horses” over and over? It’s been two months since I left the house and yet listening to this is like being in the pelting rain surrounded by people and we’re all dancing at a level of intensity directly detrimental to our kneecaps.