The Greatest Western Song of All Time

The title for this blog is a bit of hyperbole, but I think it’s true.  El Paso by Marty Robbins has been my favorite song for years.  It came up at P&P a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. For those who haven’t heard it, I’m included a YouTube video from the 1970s. I recommend ignoring the white jumpsuits. It’s hard to believe we ever thought they were a good idea.   

Here’s El Paso.

 

And now for some trivia . . .

The song was written by Marty Robbins in almost less time than it takes to sing the 4-1/2 minute long version.  He said in an interview that it came to him almost like a movie and he just wrote it down.

The song is unusual in that there’s no chorus and no repeated lyrics.

El Paso was released in September 1959 and went to No. 1.  In 1961, it won the Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording.

The Grateful Dead did a cover of  El Paso.

El Paso appeared on Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs.  Today on Amazon, there are 107 review that break down like this: 5 Stars — 100.  4 Stars — 6.  3 Stars — 1. The solo 3-Star reviewer didn’t like the  change in the order of the songs on the digitally remastered CD.

The City of El Paso named a park after Marty Robbins.

The song on the flipside of the old 45 was Running Gun.

The Glaser Brothers supplied the harmony, and Grady Martin played the Tex Mex style guitar that gives the song so much character.

Marty Robbins’ real name was Shane Dawson. He was born September 26, 1925.  He passed away December 8, 1982 from a heart ailment. He had a twin sister.

And now here are the lyrics that first made me love western romance . . . 

El Paso by Marty Robbins

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Night-time would find me in Rosa’s cantina;
Music would play and Felina would whirl.Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina,
Wicked and evil while casting a spell.
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden;
I was in love but in vain, I could tell.

One night a wild young cowboy came in,
Wild as the West Texas wind.
Dashing and daring,
A drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina,
The girl that I loved.

So in anger I

Challenged his right for the love of this maiden.
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore.
My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat;
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.

Just for a moment I stood there in silence,
Shocked by the FOUL EVIL deed I had done.
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there;
I had but one chance and that was to run.

Out through the back door of Rosa’s I ran,
Out where the horses were tied.
I caught a good one.
It looked like it could run.
Up on its back
And away I did ride,

Just as fast as I

Could from the West Texas town of El Paso
Out to the bad-lands of New Mexico.

Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
Everything’s gone in life; nothing is left.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death.

I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing’s worse than this
Pain in my heart.

And at last here I

Am on the hill overlooking El Paso;
I can see Rosa’s cantina below.
My love is strong and it pushes me onward.
Down off the hill to Felina I go.

Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys;
Off to my left ride a dozen or more.
Shouting and shooting I can’t let them catch me.
I have to make it to Rosa’s back door.

Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side.
Though I am trying
To stay in the saddle,
I’m getting weary,
Unable to ride.

But my love for

Felina is strong and I rise where I’ve fallen,
Though I am weary I can’t stop to rest.
I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle.
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest.

From out of nowhere Felina has found me,
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for,
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.  

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Victoria Bylin
Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

24 Comments

  1. Such fun. I have always loved songs that tell a story. Glad to know some of your backstory when it comes to western romance.

    But thank goodness you recognized romance readers definitely need an HEA 🙂

    Peace, Julie

  2. Hi Julie, I’m with you on the HEA. If I invest the time to read (or write) a book, I want an ending that leaves me hopeful. My favorites are the tearjerkers that keep you on the edge of the very end.

  3. Such a classic. And what a perfect western voice to sing it. I do prefer my own cowboy heroes to live a bit longer (I’m in total agreement about those HEAs), but something tells me that if this particular tale had the cowboy ride off into the sunset with Felina, it just wouldn’t have the same impact.

  4. Vicki, I love this. Had the lp record with his songs and played it to death while my kids were growing up. Now I play the cd.
    Most of the songs on that album have sad endings. I agree with Karen, a happy ending just wouldn’t have worked. The melancholia is part of what makes those songs so magical.

  5. Hi Karen, It’s a tragic end but fitting. I’m working on something today and am deciding whether or not to kill off a secondary character. I love her so much! I don’t want her to die! But being realistic? Well, I don’t know yet. I’m leaning toward letting her live and giving her a book of her own 🙂

  6. Hello Elizabeth, My son has Gunfighter Ballads on his iPod. That rocks! Long live El Paso!

  7. VICKI!!!!! A woman after my own heart. That is my ring tone on my phone. Embarrasses my kids to death, but it sure pleases everyone else when it goes off. LOL I remember when El Paso came out and I was just about 3 years old, and LOVED THAT SONG. My dad worked in the oilfields and was gone sometimes for days at a time, and when he’d come home, he’d stop by the record shop and buy me a 45 rpm to bring as a surprise. OH! When he brought home El Paso, I wore a groove in the record. I had a little small red record player that sat on the floor and Mom had taught me how to carefully pick up the arm to keep from scratching the record and place it over at the beginning. On a very sad day, I rode my tricycle over the edge of El Paso and cried until Dad finally went to the record store and bought me a replacement copy. In my mind, Marty Robbins had such a smooth voice that I’d rather listen to him than any other singer, anywhere anytime–yes even Elvis. My daughter did a picture of Felina in Rosa’s with the cowboys around her when she was in high school for my birthday. She never finished it, but I still have hopes! Thanks for your post, Vicki! This was a great song. I never get tired of Marty Robbins.
    Cheryl P.

  8. Good idea, Vicki. 🙂 I’m sure she’d appreciate staying alive for her own story to be written.

    I killed off a horse once, and that nearly did me in. Don’t know if I could kill off a character I had grown to love. Torture.

  9. This is one of my fav Marty Robbins tunes and I have always wanted to go to El Paso. But never got their when I was in Texas…Thanks for the triva.
    Like everyone else I love HEA, but sometimes the hero has to die to be come just that… a hero.

  10. Oh, y’all, I forgot to say, there is another song that Marty Robbins made that is a follow up to El Paso. It tells the story of Felina and how she left home to go to work in the cantina and what happened to her after her lover died in her arms. I think it’s just called Felina–I have it on a tape my dad made for me from his collection of Marty Robbins stuff. I won’t say any more — don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
    Cheryl P.

  11. Hi Cheryl! My dad played Gunfighter Ballads on the big stereo–we’re talking a piece of furniture with built-in speakers, not a boom box–and my cousins and I would gallop around the house on stick horses. Our imaginations made that song oh-so-real! What fun!

  12. Hi Kathleen, Something tells me my mental picture of El Paso is a lot more romantic than the real one! I’ve never been there, but it would be fun to go to the park named in Marty Robbins’ honor. This song is SO stuck in my head today!

  13. Cheryl, Thank you for mentioning the other song… I’ve heard it and like it, but it’s not up to the level of El Paso, at least IMHO. I *do* like the one he wrote years later, about a man flying over the city and thinking about the song.

  14. Vicki,
    No, I don’t think anything is up to par with El Paso, but I do like that he kind of finished the story. And I love El Paso City, where the guy is flying over the city and thinking about a former life…very intriguing.
    Cheryl P.

  15. hi Vicki, good one today! I’ve got the song whirling in my head now. It’s such a good one, such a heart-render. And yes, since the first time I heard it, I’ve wanted to go to West Texas to El Paso. One of my students planned to go to UTEP…I wonder if he ever made it.

    I love the short “e” sounds in wEst tExas El paso.” Which of course is why the words sound so good. Love songs that tell a story….but like Karen, my endings are happy ones. Yet, this ending is perfect. Just like a guy wrote it LOL. 🙂

  16. Hi Tanya, What an interesting observation about the short “e” sounds. One of the things that strikes me about an author’s voice is how the story sounds in my ear, the rhythm, the tone. Lyrics or poetry or fiction, the sound matters!

  17. Felina is clearly the devil!!!
    Such a sad song, Vicki. 🙁

    Where are the tear drop smilies!!??

  18. I agree with you on that song, I love Marty Robins and always have. I have the CD with this song on it and I love the CD, listen to it in my car all the time. Best song ever written.

  19. Hi Quilt Lady, The CD makes for great driving music 🙂

    Hi Mary, Yes, it’s sad. Sniff. But I still love it!

  20. Love this song, Vicki. I’ve got to find the CD.

  21. Tracy I got mine at WalMart–they have a huge collection of the older artists’ cds there–some kind of hard to find.
    Cheryl P.

  22. Sorry I’m late to the party today, but I had to comment when I saw the topic. I LOVE THIS SONG! My poor father made the mistake of playing it in my presence when I was a child and then had to play it over and over and over…well you get the idea. It’s now on my mp3 favorites and I still play it daily. Just love Marty Robbins. And this is such a romantic song. Although I agree, I’d have preferred a HEA. :o)

  23. I was in high school when the song came out (should I admit that?), and like many others, it went to the top of my like list. My uncle and his brother liked it and that was where I first heard it. When I cleaned out my aunt’s house when she went to a nursing home several years ago, I found a 45 version, probably the original, a Marty Robbins album, and 2 Marty Robbins cassettes. I’ll have to check to see of the Gunfighter Ballads album is among her records. All had EL PASO on them. I had never thought about it not having a chorus, and you are right about the lack of one is unusual.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  24. Ooooh, I love the old gunfighter ballads and this in particular is one of my faves!

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