Monday, December 21, 2009

50 years ago: Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” topped country chart

El Paso

Marty Robbins

Writer(s): Marty Robbins (see lyrics here)

Released: October 26, 1959

First Charted: November 9, 1959

Peak: 12 US, 2 CB, 12 HR, 17 CW, 19 UK, 13 CN, 18 AU, 3 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 26.8 video, 44.68 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Marty Robbins said he would have been a cowboy had he been born sooner. Initially, his music “failed to reveal his love for the range.” AC However, after singing the theme to the 1959 Gary Cooper movie, The Hanging Tree, he “delved into a western sound.” AC He was inspired to write “El Paso” because of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” It showed Robbins that the “public had a craving for finely crafted historical odes.” AC He figured audiences would take to a song about the Old West.

He’d driven through El Paso a few times and loved the mix of Mexican and American culture in the city. He used that and stories his grandfather, a cowboy, had told about range wars to craft a “tragedy of Shakespearean proportions” AC about “a cowboy, a beautiful Mexican maiden, and a mean gunslinger.” AC While the story was fictitious, it “captured the romance of the range like no other song ever had or probably ever will.” AC Bob Dylan called it “a ballad of the tortured soul” BD that “seems like a typical western ballad, [but] is anything but.” BD

It had long been an unwritten rule in the music industry to not release a single longer than three minutes. AC Columbia Records balked at the 4:40 running time of “El Paso” and refused to put it out as a 45, but agreed to release it on an album. When Gunfigher Ballads and Trail Songs had been out four weeks, demand for “El Paso” was so strong that the record company relented and released it as a single. FB

The song topped the country charts on December 21, 1959. Two weeks later, it ascended to the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 chart as well. It was Marty Robbins’ sixth of sixteen #1 songs on the country chart but his only #1 pop song. “El Paso” spent 7 weeks atop the country chart. Although he would have a couple of other songs which topped that, but “none would be so idetntified with the singer as ‘El Paso.’” AC


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Marty Robbins
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 63.
  • AC Ace Collins (1996). The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs. New York, NY; The Berkley Publishing Group. Pages 127-9.
  • BD Bob Dylan (2022). The Philosophy of Modern Song. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Pages 105-8.
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 8/27/2022; last updated 11/2/2022.

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