Monday, December 21, 2020

El Paso, Marty Robbins, and Dec. 21, 1959 by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #martyrobbins #countrymusic


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

 Back to El Paso…

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.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Find Kaye in cyberland here:




  1. I never had the pleasure of seeing him in person, but I heard from friends that he was a fantastic performer. Thanks, Kaye!

    1. Vicky,
      I never had the opportunity to see him perform live, either. He always seemed so upbeat and happy in his tv performances. Thanks for stopping in.

  2. A perfect gift. Thanks for this background and for a list of all those 'misjudged'songs from my childhood. Doris

    1. Doris,
      I could have gone on for pages listing the B sides that were as popular or more successful than the A sides, but I refrained. haha Researching those songs took me back through my childhood and teen years, too. Thanks for coming by.

  3. Kaye, this has long been one of my favorite songs EVER. I was 2 in 1959. My dad would bring home those little 45 records for me from time to time to play on my red record player, and that was one of them. One day I accidentally rode over the edge of that record with my trike. You have never heard such a howl set up as that! I learned that a record would break, and you couldn't play it without ruining the needle with a big ol' crack in it. But my knight in shining armor came through in the next couple of days, when he came home with a brand new 45 of El Paso. And my telephone ring to this day is this song. Every time it comes on out in public somewhere, someone will usually turn and smile at me or say, "Hey, it's Marty Robbins!"

    Great post, and I'm off to read the articles at your links you posted!

  4. Cheryl,

    El Paso is the perfect western song. You see it as a movie while you listen to it. I went through a couple of broken 45s, too. My first one had a pink cover. There were three songs on it. One side had the full-length version. The other side was Strawberry Roan and One Hundred and Sixty Acres. My gosh, I loved that 45. Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. I've loved El Paso since I was fifteen and it amd Unchained Melody by the Righteous 'Brothers remain my top favorites....a tie because I really cannot choose between them. Then a few years after El Paso, Mary recorded a sequel, Feleena, and a third one, El Paso City. I love to play one after the other. And I absolutely love Marty's Gunfighter Ballads album. I could listen to him all day. I recognized every B Side song you listed, all fab songs.

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