Marty Robbins’ album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, was released in September 1959. El Paso, one of the songs on the album, was released as a single in October.
From there, the song’s popularity grew, and Marty was on his way to making country music history.
Back in the music industry days of c. 1959, recording labels rarely took chances on songs that were over three minutes long. There was a belief that disc jockeys wouldn’t play, and radio listeners wouldn’t tolerate, songs that ran longer.
El Paso was 4:40 long. Oops.
Marty’s recording label, Columbia, released El Paso as a 45 rpm single with more than a minute cut from of the song. This was Side A. Side B had the full, unedited version, but record labels generally regarded Side B as filler or extra value for your dollar and not as a potential hit song. Also, the side a 45 rpm the recording company wanted to get the most air time was marked as the ‘plug side’, and disc jockeys were expected to honor that.
But music-listening tastes are often misjudged by record companies, and there have been numerous Side B songs that became as, or more, popular than the Side A song.
***Diversion for the curious among us—random examples of famous Side B songs. Read more HERE
- Ricky Nelson – Hello Mary Lou
- Roy Orbison – Love Hurts
- Queen – We Will Rock You
- Beatles – I Saw Her Standing There
- Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
- Monkees – I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
- CCR – Have You Ever Seen the Rain
- Elvis – Hound Dog
- KISS – Beth
- Rod Stewart – Maggie May
- Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
- Hank Williams, Sr. – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
- Johnny Cash – Get Rhythm
- Don Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You
- Chuck Berry – Memphis, Tennessee
- Beach Boys – 409
- Four Seasons – Silence is Golden
- Buck Owens – Cryin’ Time
It didn’t take long before listeners demanded to hear the full-length version, which helped propel El Paso to the No. 1 position on the U.S. Chart and Country Songs Chart on December 21, 1959. (Go HERE to look up songs and dates)
I recommend this short essay by Diane Diekman at the Library of Congress LOC about Marty Robbins and how he came to write El Paso.
El Paso entered Billboard’s Country Chart in early November and reached number one on December 21, 1959. The song achieved ‘crossover status’ when it reached No. 1 on the pop chart on Christmas Day. El Paso stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks, giving it the distinction of being the first No. 1 hit of 1960.
El Paso and Marty would receive the honor of being awarded the Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961.
So, today, on the 61st anniversary of El Paso reaching No. 1 on the music charts, we must raise a glass to Marty and his iconic song.
For those of you reading this on your phones, here is the YouTube link for the song El Paso.