The Osmonds: how we made Crazy Horses

‘When the army caught Saddam Hussein, they found this in his record collection’

Merrill Osmond, singer

Being in the Osmonds was like being in a war zone after 1972. Fans ruined limousines by jumping on top of them and smashed windows as we tried to leave places. When we played arenas, we couldn’t hear anything because of the screaming. We tried earmuffs, but they didn’t work.

People were getting on stage, causing shows to be stopped three or four times a night. Once, in Manchester, we played a two-hour concert and by the end had only managed two songs because the show was stopped 10 times. By the end of the evening, every chair in the place was destroyed. It was crazy but amazing. Writing a song is one thing; hearing 20,000 people singing it back to you is something else. And all this started when Crazy Horses was released in 1972.

Before that, my brothers and I had been what’s now called a boyband: all our songs were chosen for us by the record company. But now, having been successful, we wanted to freak out and make our own music. We were rehearsing in a basement one day when Wayne started playing this heavy rock riff. I came up with a melody and Alan got the chords. Within an hour, we had the song.

I had always been the lead singer, but I sang Crazy Horses with Jay. The line “What a show, there they go, smoking up the sky” had to be sung higher, so I did that and Jay did the verses because his voice was growlier, and this track was heavier than anything we’d ever done. When the label heard it, they said: “Guys, what on earth are you doing?” But when the record started flying up the charts, we got their respect, even though it was initially banned in France because they thought “smoking up the sky” was about drugs.

It’s amazing how far this song has travelled. When the military caught Saddam Hussein, they discovered he had a complete collection of Osmonds records, including Crazy Horses.

Jay Osmond, singer, drummer

Crazy Horses was way ahead of its time. It’s a song about ecology and the environment: those “crazy horses, smoking up the sky” are gas-guzzling cars, destroying the planet with their fumes. We shot the record sleeve in a junkyard, surrounded by big old cars.

Crazy Horses sleeve

The song was recorded at MGM in Hollywood and we added that distinctive “Wah! Wah!” intro sound afterwards. Alan had written the lyrics, which talked about horsepower, and he said: “It’s got to sound like a horse somehow.” We tried everything, then finally found something on Donny’s organ that sounded like a neighing stallion.

The song changed the way we were perceived. Before that, we’d been called “bubblegum”. But suddenly we were getting invited to see Led Zeppelin at Earls Court, to sing Stairway to Heaven with them on stage. We went backstage and met their families and everything. Great guys. We even used their sound system when we played Earls Court ourselves the following night.

After we went rock, Donny started wearing a leather jacket. His middle name was Clark and we’d always called him Clarky, but somehow that got changed to Corky, so he had that written on his jacket in studs. When we met Elvis at one of his shows, he said: “Hey guys, I wanna show you something.” He opened up one of his closets and showed us all these jumpsuits. “Now that’s what you should be wearing,” he said and introduced us to his designer, Bill Belew, who did a jumpsuit for each of us, with accents in our favourite colours. The bandanas worn by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the same colours. That gets us cool points with our grandkids.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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