“El Paso” is a western ballad written and originally recorded by Marty Robbins, and first released on Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs in September 1959. It was released as a single the following month, and became a major hit on both the country and pop music charts, becoming the first No. 1 hit of the 1960s on both. It won the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961. It is widely considered a genre classic for its gripping narrative which ends in the death of its protagonist, its shift from past to present tense, haunting harmonies by vocalists Bobby Sykes and Jim Glaser (of the Glaser Brothers) and the eloquent and varied Spanish guitar accompaniment by Grady Martin that lends the recording a distinctive Tex-Mex feel. The name of the character Feleena was based upon a schoolmate of Robbins in the fifth grade, Fidelina Martinez.
Members of the Western Writers of America chose “El Paso” as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
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Whether you are a fan of country music or not, it would be very hard not to like Marty Robbins and “El Paso”. When El Paso came out in 1959, I was 8 so I have no memory of when I first heard the song. Record albums were not yet as popular as they would become a few years later, but in among my parents collection of mainly soundtracks from popular musicals or my older brothers collection of early rock and roll artists, we had Gunfighter Ballads by Robbins. As a kid who was mesmerized by the dozens of westerns on TV during my childhood, the cover of that album caught my imagination.
And the song still holds up. Love for woman who may or may not have reciprocated those feelings. Jealousy leading to a gunfight and death. Escaping the town and perhaps committing the worse crime of stealing a horse. Returning to the town because “my love was stronger than my fear of death”. Getting gunned down and dying with a last kiss from Faleena.
Seriously, what’s not to like?
A nice comment laced with nostalgia. I remember the song very well. As I recall, the song was so long that it covered both sides of a 45 record. Am I correct?
Steve, you got me curious. According to Wikipedia, El Paso at 4 minutes 38 seconds was about 2 minutes longer than the typical song of the time. The record company was worried that it might not get radio play, so they produced a promo 45 with the long version on one side and a shorter version on the other side. Disc jockeys preferred the longer version.
From that same Wikipedia article I also learned that Marty Robbins recorded two sequels to El Paso. The first tells the story of Faleena and it is 8 minutes long. It’s a bit too long for my liking but the storytelling especially within the confines of a song, is brilliant.