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(Ghost) Riders in the Sky -- the Song and the Movie

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Uploaded on May 25, 2011

This song is actually "Riders in the Sky", the "ghost riders" being lyrics but not part of the title. It was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, and was first recorded in 1949 by folk master Burl Ives in a version that remains one of the best.

Just a month later, "Riders" was recorded by Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra in a hugely successful rendition which removed the song from the realm of western music into the popular realm. It was recorded by everybody and his brother and sister (over 50 performers to date). Classic western music doesn't take well to improvisation, a fact either unknown or ignored by many otherwise fine singers who have managed to butcher their "Riders" attempts.

Notable performances that are essentially true to the straightforward western-legend nature of the song are Burl Ives original version (but not a later one), The Sons of the Pioneers (featured here), Frankie Laine (outstanding), Marty Robbins (outstanding), and Gene Autry (true but remarkably lifeless performance considering his western roots and experience). Johnnie Cash gave it a new life for a new generation. I wish that Willie Nelson had pursued "Riders" during his "Red-Headed Stranger" period.

The scenes portrayed are from the 1949 movie "Riders in the Sky", rushed onto film in 1949 by Gene Autry and Armand Schaefer for Columbia Pictures. It appears that the "Riders" sequence was inserted into the midst of an existing story, to give Autry the opportunity to sing the tremendously popular song onscreen. It was artistically done and effective, and helped to spur Autry's return to western entertainment following his WWII military service which other "Hollywood patriots" avoided.

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