Are you ready for some more music, partner? Then let’s get to it!
I don’t know if you and your family like to watch old westerns. Most original Westerns have the bad guy and the sheriff/good cowhand/reformed gunfighter face off against each other at noon on Main Street. They walk forward a few paces and then whip out their guns. Usually the good guy is faster and he wins the duel.
This standard plot is no exception in the ballad ‘Big Iron,’ performed once again by Marty Robbins (you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGmUsJvRv7U). The hero of this tale is an Arizona Ranger. He is after a no-good 24 year old man called Texas Red. Red has notched his pistol once for every man he has killed, twenty in all. He hears about the Ranger who has come to town for him and decides that he will make an excellent number twenty-one.
The two walk into the street at a quarter past eleven (not exactly noon, but close enough). The whole town is indoors, waiting with bated breath.
Then, before Texas Red has ‘cleared leather,’ (gotten his pistol clear of his holster) there is the report of a gun. The Ranger has turned out to be the faster draw.
The song is called ‘Big Iron’ to describe the Ranger’s armament, likely a Colt pistol. These were known back in the day as rather large handguns, and so when people saw a man ride into town with one, they said, “He had a big iron (pistol) on his hip.”
The song is great fun. You can tap out the tune or sing along with it no problem, and it is a great addition to Western folklore. ‘Big Iron’ is a story in the best Old West tradition. Just like the films High Noon and Rio Bravo, it is a story that stays with you wherever you go. There are worse stories to have following one around, I must say.
Another cheerful song is ‘A Hundred and Sixty Acres’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbyBUtvd8oo). Like ‘Big Iron,’ this song is also performed by Marty Robbins. It was written when the Homestead Act was passed. Under the Homestead Act, a man could get a hundred and sixty acres out west if he worked the land for a certain amount of time. For the most part, the song is repetitive; it speaks about the singer being his own man, totally reliant on himself for his wages and success. Whoever composed the song must have been extremely happy with his wide open 160 acres!
Another ballad Robbins did is called ‘Strawberry Roan,’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z81gbEhez7w). It tells the story of a bronco buster who is hired to tame an untamable horse. The Rider is sure he can bust any bronc. Ol’ Strawberry is sure he can bust any rider.
I’ll let you find out which one wins.
Next is one of my favorite Western themes of all time. This one was originally performed by Frankie Laine, and it topped the charts back in the 1960’s, the first TV theme song to do so – if my information is correct. It was certainly the most popular TV theme to make it to the charts, anyway.
The theme song I’m talking about is the one that introduces the show Rawhide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSHr4ubuD64). The show ran for seven years, and listening to the theme song, it is no surprise why. This song is harder to sing along with in some ways than any of Robbins’ ballads, but that is because the tempo is faster. It is a song meant to match the gallop of a horse, I think; a song meant for the hard, dusty work of a trail ride. Rawhide chronicled the adventures of a band of cowhands who were eternally herding cattle to the railroad. It was the show that got Clint Eastwood his big break.
Then there is Kenny Rogers’ ‘Graybeard,’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdJ1irW5iWA). It’s about a young gunfighter called ‘The Devil Kid.’ He meets an old timer in a ghost town by the name of Graybeard. This old coot is still lightning quick with his iron, and he overcomes the Devil Kid. And you will not believe how he does it!
Last, but not least, is a theme song from yet another Western TV show. You see, Giselle, Westerns were to the ‘sixties what crime shows have become to the current era. You could not trip over a rock without running into one of them, no matter where you went. And they rewarded the actors who performed in them very well.
This theme song is from the show Have Gun, Will Travel. The song itself is called ‘The Ballad of Paladin’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgvxu8QY01s). It’s named after the hero of the series, Paladin, a gunman for hire. I have not had the chance to see many episodes of the series, but from what I have seen, he is an interesting character. The song describes him as a “knight without armor in a savage land.”
That is a moniker most cowboys wear in stories, and doubtless wore in times past.
The thing about these songs is that they are ballads in the truest sense of the word – with the possible exception of ‘A Hundred and Sixty Acres.’ I can’t help but think it was written more for a special occasion, like the song ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ That doesn’t make it inappropriate though; it is still part of the ‘Old’ West culture.
To me, there is nothing old about that culture. It will always be there. One would just have to get out there and find it.
That wouldn’t be too hard, especially if one found a willing guide and kept their eyes open.
I have to go. The sun is setting.