Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs cover

Reflecting On: Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs

I have alluded to my love for Marty Robins in the past, and I figured that it was about time that I discussed one of his albums in detail. It may be a cliché choice, but for this week’s reflection, I’m going to discuss what is probably his biggest album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

Release Date: September 1959

Genre: The Western side of country and western

People Who Might Like This Album: Those who like cowboy stories and songs

Standout Tracks: “Big Iron,” “They’re Hanging Me Tonight,” “Utah Carol,” “Running Gun,” “El Paso”

The thing about Marty Robbins is, a lot of his songs are stories. They are sung stories, but stories nonetheless. Many of them do not have a traditional chorus, just one or two phrases that link the whole thing together. “Big Iron” is a fantastic example of this. It’s all about how an outlaw underestimates a ranger who had come to take him in. Even though I have heard the song multiple times, I still find myself drawn to the story and what will happen next.

Then, there’s “They’re Hanging Me Tonight.” It’s all about a man who was going to be hanged for murder. He had killed his ex-girlfriend because she’d left him for another man. He knew it wasn’t right, but he did it anyway. What I find interesting about this song is that the man does not run, he knows he deserves his punishment.

I love the melody of “Utah Carol”. The story is sad too. A cowboy was in love with his boss’s daughter, and so he put a blanket on his saddle so that she could ride his horse easier. The blanket caused a stampede, and though she tried to tie the blanket in place, she fell off the horse and into the cattle, while doing so. Utah Carol tried to save her, and was ultimately successful, but he himself was killed. This is one of my favorite songs, just because it’s such a poignant tale. He saved the girl he loved, but not himself.

“Running Gun” is a fantastic song. A man leaves his girl far behind, because he feels guilty for becoming a paid killer. He planned to send for her when he’d reached Mexico, but never got that far as the man was killed by a bounty hunter who was faster than him. He knows that the bounty hunter will one day face someone else who is faster than him, but his last thoughts are of his girlfriend and how a woman should never love a running gun.

Lastly, there’s “El Paso”. I cannot talk about Marty Robbins without mentioning it. This is his best-known song, and for good reason. In it, he tells yet another story. This time, it’s all about a man who was in love with a Mexican dancer. He got jealous of a cowboy who captured her attention one day, and a gunfight ensued. He killed the stranger and rode away from El Paso, where the song is set. However, he eventually went back because he missed the dancer, and when he got there, he was killed. I remember watching TV as a kid, and a countdown of the best songs of all time was on. I don’t recall if it was just in country, but “El Paso” either made number one, or close to it. Either way, I was fascinated, and it led me to Marty Robbins’ other music. It’s still my favorite song of his.

Like I said before, Marty Robbins does a lot of story songs, and this album is almost nothing but. I love a good story song, though, and I’m pretty sure my love for them started here when I first heard “El Paso”. Another thing I love about Marty Robbins is his voice. I have never heard anyone who sounded like him. Of course, everyone has different voices, but something about his particular voice and singing style is just fantastic. If you like music set in the West or cowboy stories, I highly recommend checking this album out if you have not.

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5 thoughts on “Reflecting On: Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs”

  1. I grew up hearing my parents play this record more times than I can count. There was a Sons of the Pioneers album from about the same time that we heard a lot, too. I’ve always been drawn to western music, despite never even visiting the west until I was an adult.

  2. I need to listen to this ASAP. I love western stuff. I’ve also known I should check it out, but I don’t know, time I guess. Anyway, I’ll check it out on my trip sometime in the next twelve days.

  3. Great album. Thanks. Although I’ve always loved story songs, before seeing this article I wasn’t familiar with many Marty Robbins’ songs other than “El Paso” and “Cool Water”. I don’t recall when I first heard these 2 songs. I grew up listening to NYC rock radio stations in the late 50’s and the 60’s. There I heard story songs like The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” , the Everly Brothers “Take a Message to Mary”, Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang”, etc. Checking my i-tunes library, my most frequently played song is Hal Ketchum’s “Daddy’s Oldsmobile”.

    1. Oh, he has tons of other great songs too that aren’t on this album. El Paso City is just one. Also, I have not heard any of those songs you mentioned, so I will have to check them out.

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