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24) Marty Robbins – “El Paso”

 The first #1 of the ’60s continues the trend of “saga songs,” including Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” that were popular on the country charts in the late ’50s.  But “El Paso” shares few similarities with Horton’s light-hearted, kid-friendly historical romp. Instead, it’s a tale of jealousy, murder and the futility of running from death. I had never really noticed before how dark “El Paso” was, due to the ubiquity of the song, the jauntiness of the melody and the innocuous opening lyrics (“Out in the West Texas town of El Paso/I fell in love with a Mexican girl”).  Many of Robbins’s lyrics have a tragic beauty: “Maybe tomorrow a bullet will find me/Tonight nothing’s worse than this pain in my heart.”  The bleakness of the song is complemented by the spare accompaniment: in addition to Robbins’s voice and acoustic guitar is soft percussion, Spanish guitar and the vocals of Tompall & The Glaser Brothers.  Sure, the Spanish guitar is a bit cliché, and the backing vocals are a little too strong, but the overall effect is haunting.  With “El Paso,” Robbins had delivered the first Child ballad of the Hot 100. 7

Liner Notes

  • Robbins continued the story of “El Paso” in two subsequent songs: “Feleena (From El Paso)” in 1966 and “El Paso City” in 1976.

Hit #1 on January 4, 1960; total of 2 weeks at #1
24 of 963 #1’s reviewed; 2.49% through the Hot 100


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