Ghost Riders in the Sky – Johnny Cash – Full Song

Lyrics:

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi ooohhh
Yippie yi yaaaay

Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire
As they ride on hear their cry

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

Yippie yi yaaaay
Yippie yi ohhhhh

Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky

 

(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend” is a cowboy-styled country/western song written in 1948 by American songwriter, film and television actor Stan Jones.[1]

The tune sounds similar to “Spancil Hill” (traditional Irish folk song by Michael Considine, Irish emigrant to the United States in the 1870s).[citation needed]

A number of versions were crossover hits on the pop charts in 1949, the most successful being by Vaughn Monroe. The ASCAP database lists the song as “Riders in the Sky” (title code 480028324[2]), but the title has been written as “Ghost Riders“, “Ghost Riders in the Sky“, and “A Cowboy Legend“. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3]

Overview

The song tells a folk tale of a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the spirits of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways, he will be doomed to join them, forever “trying to catch the Devil‘s herd across these endless skies”. Jones stated he had been told the story when he was 12 years old by an old cowboy friend.[1] The story resembles the northern European mythic Wild Hunt.[4]

More than 50 performers have recorded versions of the song. Charting versions were recorded by The Outlaws, Vaughn Monroe (“Riders in the Sky” with orchestra and vocal quartet), which topped the Billboard magazine charts, by Bing Crosby (with the Ken Darby Singers), Frankie Laine, Burl Ives (two different versions), Marty Robbins, The Ramrods and Johnny Cash. Other recordings were made by Eddy Arnold, Peggy Lee (with the Jud Conlon Singers), Christopher Lee, and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Gene Autry sang it in the 1949 movie, Riders in the Sky. Jones himself recorded it for his 1957 album Creakin’ Leather.[5] Children of Bodom, Impaled Nazarene and Die Apokalyptischen Reiter have also made covers.

The melody is based on the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”[6]

Recordings

1948

  • The original version by Stan Jones was recorded in late 1948, and composer Eden Ahbez sent the song to Burl Ives, who recorded his own version a year later.

1949

  • Burl Ives recorded the song on February 17, 1949, and the song was released by Columbia Records as catalog No. 38445. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 22, 1949, lasting six weeks and peaking at No. 21.[7]
  • The version by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra with Vaughn Monroe and The Moon Men on vocals, was recorded on March 14, 1949, and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog No. 20-3411 (in USA) and by EMI on the His Master’s Voice label as catalog No. BD 1247, HN 3014, HQ 2071, IM 1425 and GY 878. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 15, 1949, lasting 22 weeks and reaching No. 1.[7] Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1949.[8]
  • The Bing Crosby version was recorded on March 22, 1949,[9] and released by Decca Records as catalog No. 24618. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on May 6, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at No. 14.[7]
  • The Peggy Lee version was recorded on April 18, 1949, and released by Capitol Records as catalog No. 57-608. It reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Most Played By Disc Jockeys listing without appearing in the retail Top 30.
  • Spike Jones recorded the song on May 24, 1949, and it was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog No. 20-3741. Copies of the original release, containing lyrics ridiculing RCA stockholder Vaughn Monroe, are rare. The recording parodies the original Monroe recording, injecting much of Jones’ quintessential humor along the way.

1950s

  • In 1953 Goldtown Ghost Riders was a film starring Gene Autry. He sang the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
  • It was the opening track of Scatman Crothers‘ 1956 album, Rock ‘n’ roll with Scat Man.
  • Theodore Bikel sang a humorous version of the song in his An Actor’s Holiday album (1956).Gene Autry also sang the sing for the first time in a 1950 film” Beyond the Purple Hills” which was quickly edited to include Autry singing the song after a chance meeting with Stan Jones in which he bought the rights to the song.

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

  • The Chaps released a Scottish parody version called “Rawhide” in 1982.
  • Peter, Paul & Mary recorded a parody of the song titled “Yuppies in the Sky” on their 1990 album Flowers and Stones.
  • Terry Scott Taylor and Daniel Amos recorded a version in 1990 that appeared on The Miracle Faith Telethon compilation album.
  • Impaled Nazarene recorded a black metal version of the song, which was released on the Sadogoat EP in 1993. It was subsequently included in the CD version of their bonus album, Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz.
  • The Alberta Celtic rock group Captain Tractor recorded an unusual version for their 1994 album Land. New lyrics describe the frenzy of corruption in a prairie town at the climax of a real estate bubble. Rather than fire-and-brimstone Christian imagery, the warning takes the form of vaguely Zen lamentations: “The winds still blow/The rains still fall/The trees don’t seem to care at all!”
  • Buckethead played a dub style version of the song during his Giant Robot album tour in 1994.
  • Dick Dale once again covered the song for his 1994 album, Unknown Territory. For a time, this version accompanied a NASA montage as part of the preshow video on Space Mountain at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom.
  • Duane Eddy brought his electrified “twangy guitar” sound along with a sax edition by Jim Horn to a 1996 version on an Curb Album Ghost Rider.[15]
  • On the 1997 album, VH1 Storytellers, the song was recorded live with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. In that performance, Willie Nelson misses the start of the third verse because he forgets the text, and ends up switching the third and fourth verses.
  • Deborah Harry, lead singer of Blondie, recorded a trance version of the song, which features on the soundtrack to the film Three Businessmen (1998). The song (produced and arranged by Dan Wool and Pray for Rain) is available free on her website.[16]
  • Christopher Lee recorded a version of this song on the album Devils, Rogues & Other Villains, released by Nikolas Schreck in 1998 on his Wolfslair label.
  • The Blues Brothers performed the song in the 1998 movie Blues Brothers 2000. This version appeared on both the movie’s soundtrack and the compilation album The Blues Brothers’ Greatest Hits of All Time. Similar to the “Rawhide” scene in the first movie, the band is mistakenly booked at a bluegrass festival (announced to the crowd as “The Bluegrass Brothers”). Buster Blues’ (J. Evan Bonifant) harmonica parts for the film were recorded by John Popper of Blues Traveler.
  • In 1999, Ned Sublette included a merengue rendition on his album, Cowboy Rumba.

2000s

2010s

  • Judy Collins, featuring the Nashville Rhythm Section and Ghost Riders Chorus, covered ”Ghost Riders in the Sky” on her 2010 album Paradise.
  • Florida/Utah death metal band, Gorlock, covered it on their 2011 EP titled Despair is My Mistress.
  • The song is the opening track on Roswell Rudd’s album, Trombone For Lovers.
  • The character of Granddad Brown in the Irish comedy series Mrs Brown’s Boys briefly covered Ghost Riders in the Sky in the 2011 Christmas special episode “Mammy’s Ass“. The scene involves Granddad singing the song whilst Agnes hits him over the head with a metal tray, testing a crash helmet (which Granddad’s wearing) her friend Winnie is meant to be testing.
  • A track on Drop The Lime‘s 2012 album Enter The Night used the instrumental of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”.
  • “Outsider” music star, The Space Lady, featured it on her GREATEST HITS LP. (2013, Night School Records)
  • Screaming Orphans

    covered on the album Lonely Boy. (2011)

  • In 2015, a lower tempo version of Johnny Cash’s cover was used on the announcement trailer for the forthcoming Space-Opera RPG, Mass Effect: Andromeda.
  • Monster truck Black Stallion uses it as its theme song.
  • Country artist Ray Scott (singer) covered Johnny Cash’s version of this song on his EP, “Roots Sessions, Vol. 1” which was released in 2015.
  • Chrome Division covered Johnny Cash’s version of this song on their 2011 “3rd Round Knockout” album.

Additional versions

Versions in various genres have also been made by the following artists:

Non-English versions

Estonian

  • Estonian-Canadian musician Jüri Lipp translated and recorded a surf rock version in Estonian in 1968.

Finnish

  • A Finnish version titled “Aaveratsastajat” was written by Kullervo (born Tapio Kullervo Lahtinen) and it has been recorded by several popular artists including Henry Theel ja Metro-tytöt, Kari Tapio, Danny, Tapani Kansa, Reijo Taipale, and Ismo Alanko.
  • Juha Vainio wrote an alternative, humoristic version titled “Hirvenmetsästys” (The Moose Hunt). Pertti Metsärinteen yhtye recorded it in 1970.
  • An instrumental jazz version by Kalle Kalima on the album High Noon released in 2016.

French

  • A French-language version titled “Les Cavaliers du Ciel” was released by Les Compagnons de la chanson in 1949.
  • French guitarist and singer, Gill Dougherty, also released a version on his 1990 album, Live In Bourges.
  • In 1992, another French language version titled “Où tu iras” was released by Les Naufragés, on their album A contre-Courant.

German

  • In 1949, a German-language version titled “Geisterreiter” was recorded and released by East German entertainer, Rita Paul & Her Cornel-Trio. In the same year, a version was released by Gerhard Wendland.
  • Additional German-language versions have been released by surf-punk-electro band, Mikrowelle, and television entertainer, Götz Alsmann featuring Bela B of Die Ärzte.
  • An instrumental version was done by the Austrian band “da Blechhauf`n” in 2012.[19]

Italian

  • An Italian-language version of the song, titled “I Cavalieri del Cielo” was recorded by famous Italian singer Gino Latilla in 1952.

Lithuanian

  • A Lithuanian-language version of the song titled “Jupi Ja Je” was recorded by Adolfas Jarulis ir Estradinės melodijos in 1971.

Portuguese

Spanish

  • In 1966, a Spanish-language version, “Jinetes en el cielo”, was recorded and released by the Mexican group, Los Baby’s.[21]
  • Mexican singer Pedro Vargas also recorded a version.
  • The popular singer from Spain, Raphael, also released a Spanish version in the 1970s. The lyrical subject was changed to reflect a cowboy doomed to ride for eternity for breaking a young girl’s heart. The song ends happily when the girl saves him from that horrible destiny by crying and praying for him then letting a rose fall on his grave.
  • Mexican singers (and actors) Manolín and Shilinsky (find them in Wikipedia in Spanish) recorded a comic version.[22]

Influences

Apart from the numerous recordings by various artists, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” has inspired various artists.

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