Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Marty Robbins - El Paso City

The El Paso Trilogy Part 3

The final part of Marty Robbins' El Paso trilogy, after the original massive hit and its eight-minute follow-up Feleena, must be one of the oddest songs in his catalogue.

By the early 70s Robbins was as interested in Nascar racing as he was in music. He left Columbia Records in 1972 and in the next few years released a handful of decent albums for Decca but struggled to find hit singles.

That all changed with his return to Columbia in 1976 and the album El Paso City. It became Marty's only number one album and its title single his first chart topper since 1970.

So why do I think the song is so weird? Well, for a start it borders on the post-modern. As Marty flies over El Paso "from 30,000 feet above the desert floor" he looks down and ponders "I don't recall who sang the song but I recall a story that I heard/ And as I look down on this city I remember each and every word". Later, as he becomes fixated on the hero of El Paso, the hit he wrote nearly 20 years before, he sings, "There's such a mystery in the song that I don't understand".

I find it fascinating that Marty Robbins visited the same subject matter three times in three decades. If El Paso City's lyrics are to be believed there's a metaphysical root to his obsession with that West Texas town:

My mind is down there somewhere as I fly above the badlands of      New Mexico
I can't explain why I should know the very trail he rode back to      El Paso
Can it be that man can disappear from life and live another time?
And does the mystery deepen 'cause you think that you yourself      lived in that other time?

MP3: Marty Robbins - El Paso City

Find it on Marty Robbins - A Lifetime Of Song

The truth behind the song is more prosaic. After Marty Robbins' biographer Diane Diekman left a comment on my previous post I asked her if she had any information about El Paso City. Diane kindly sent me this titbit:

Marty told Ralph Emery in 1977, "I was going to write a song about an airline pilot and a stewardess. They were married, see. He flew for one airline, she flew for another, and she went to El Paso. He flew over El Paso on his way to Los Angeles... He was trying to compare his love for this woman to the cowboy's love for Feleena in the song El Paso." One day Marty was flying over El Paso, and the reincarnation idea hit him. He had the song written by the time his plane landed in Los Angeles.

Related Posts
Marty Robbins - El Paso - part one of the trilogy, plus a great version by Tom Russell
Marty Robbins - Feleena (From El Paso) - the follow-up tells the story from the female perspective

Related Links
Diane Diekman - author of forthcoming Marty Robbins biography
Ultimate Twang: El Paso City - overview of the 1976 album


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