The shocking and tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has put a spotlight on a growing heroin epidemic in America. We all know that this highly addictive drug has snuffed out the lives of many talented artists for generations who succumbed to its false allure, from Fats Navarro to Brad Renfro. The conversation that’s now going on takes me back to a mid-charter hit from the “Just Say No” era.
There’s little doubt what the Danish synth-pop duo Laid Back is referring to with their No. 26 Hot 100 dance number “White Horse.” Owing much to electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, the synth-y texture and beats of the song didn’t sound all that out of place for 1983, maybe even a little leading edge for its time. But the skeletal arrangement really made it stick out. Lyrics were spare, too, and strung out, so you couldn’t possibly forget them: “If you’re wanna ride/don’t ride the white horse/If you’re wanna ride/don’t ride the white horse/white horse/white horse…”
There are a couple of other messages contained in this song, both of which aren’t advice as solid as the first one. “If you wanna be rich/you got to be a bitch,” which was still too racy for the early 80s, so the “B” word disappeared for the radio mix. The ending chorus is a twist on the main one: “If you’re wanna ride/ride the white pony,” making a plug for cocaine.
These are the kind of missives that probably resonated well in the discothèques of the coke-fueled 80s, though, making “White Horse” very much a product of its time. And perhaps influential as well. The following year, Prince made “Erotic City.” Notice the similarities?
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