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(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend: Wikis


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"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend"
Published 1948, Edwin H. Morris & Co Inc
Released 1948
Genre Country, Western
Composer Stan Jones
The wild hunt: Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo

"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend" is a country and cowboy-style song. It was written on June 5, 1948 by Stan Jones.[1] The tune (not the lyrics) bear a strong resemblance to the 19th Century Irish anti-war song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. A number of versions were crossover hits on the pop charts in 1949. 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".

The song tells 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 said that he had been told the story when he was 12 years old by an old cowboy friend.[3] The story resembles the northern European mythic Wild Hunt.

More than 50 performers have recorded versions of the song. Charting versions were recorded by Vaughn Monroe ("Riders in the Sky" with orchestra and vocal quartet), by Bing Crosby (with the Ken Darby Singers), Frankie Laine, Marty Robbins, and Johnny Cash. Other recordings were made by Peggy Lee (with the Jud Conlon Singers) and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Gene Autry sang it in the 1949 movie, Riders in the Sky. Children of Bodom and Die Apokalyptischen Reiter have also made covers.

According to Robby Krieger, it inspired the classic Doors song "Riders on the Storm." The Doors also covered Ghost Riders in the Sky.

The song was also the inspiration for the Marvel Comics character "Ghost Rider."



  • Another popular early version was recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers.
  • The Bing Crosby version was recorded on March 22, 1949 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24618. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on May 6, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at position #14.[4]
  • The original version, by Burl Ives, was recorded on February 17, 1949 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 38445. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 22, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at position #21.[4]
  • The Peggy Lee version was recorded on April 18, 1949 and released by Capitol Records as catalog number 57-608. It reached #2 in Billboard's Most Played By Disc Jockeys listing without appearing in the retail Top 30.
  • The Spike Jones version was recorded on May 24, 1949 and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 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.
  • A twangy guitar instrumental version by The Ramrods, made the Billboard Top 30 in 1961, as well as the Top 10 in the UK. This was covered by UK band The Scorpions (not the German heavy metal band) on the "Parlophone" Label.
  • Dick Dale recorded a version in the surf style and released it on his second album, King of the Surf Guitar, in 1963. For a time it also accompanied a NASA montage as part of the preshow video on Space Mountain .
  • Duane Eddy brought his electrified "twangy guitar" sound along with a sax edition by Jim Horn to a 1966 version on an RCA Album of Duane's Best[5].
  • Riders in the Sky recorded this song on their debut album, Three on the Trail, in 1979, and on several of their subsequent albums.
  • Johnny Cash made a recording in 1979 which was faithful to the original. He also recorded it live with Willie Nelson for 1998's VH1 Storytellers. In that recording, Willie Nelson misses the start of the third verse because he forgets the text, and ends up switching the third and fourth verses.
  • Recorded by Elvis Presley in June 1970 at MGM's soundstage in Culver City.
  • Dolan Ellis, Arizona's Official State Balladeer since 1966, included this as the only cover on his CD, "Tall Tales, Lost Trails & Heroes," released in 2000. He has sung the song throughout the nation and in 20 foreign countries, solo and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels, always telling the folk tale of Stan Jones, the Cochise County cowboy.
  • The rock band Outlaws made a recording in 1980 that left out the last verse.
  • A version by The Shadows reached number 12 in the UK Singles Chart in 1980. This version was a semitone higher than the original.
  • Milton Nascimento recorded a version in Portuguese as "Cavaleiros Do Céu" on his 1981 album Caçador de Mim.
  • Trigemeos Vocalistas recorded a version of Santos Rodrigues as "Vaqueiros de Marajo" in 1950 Odeon's 13045 recording side A.
  • Impaled Nazarene recorded a black metal version of the song, which was released on the Sadogoat EP in 1993. Later it was included in the CD version of their bonus album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz.
  • Ned Sublette included a merengue rendition on his Cowboy Rumba (1999).
  • 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!"
  • The Blues Brothers performed the song in the movie Blues Brothers 2000. 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").
  • The heavy metal band Die Apokalyptischen Reiter recorded a version that was released on their 2006 single, "Friede Sei Mit Dir".
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes covered the song on their 2006 album Love Their Country.
  • Deborah Harry, lead singer of Blondie, recorded a trance version of the song which features on the soundtrack to the film Three Businessmen. The song (produced and arranged by Dan Wool and Pray for Rain) is available free on her website
  • Both Dick Dale and The Ventures made surf rock covers of the song.
  • Terry Scott Taylor and Daniel Amos recorded a version in 1990 that appeared on the "Miracle Faith Telethon" compilation album.
  • Pedro Vargas recorded a version called "Jinetes en el Cielo" in Spanish.
  • Raphael a Spanish singer in the 70's performed this song, changing the lyrics talking about 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 destinity by crying and praying for him, then letting a rose on his grave.
  • During his tour as "Giant Robot", Buckethead played a dub style version of the song.
  • During the credits of the 2007 movie Ghost Rider, a rock cover by the band Spiderbait is played. An instrumental version is also heard at points in the film.
  • Frankie Laine recorded a version of it on his 1963 album Wanderlust.
  • The children's singer Fred Penner performed a child-friendly version of the song and recorded it on his 1980 album The Cat Came Back. Penner's rendition has the phantom cowboy shout "If you want to save your soul you must count ONE cow...TWO cows...THREE cows...FOUR cows...BWA HA HA HA HA!!"
  • Concrete Blonde recorded a version for their last album, 2004's Mojave.
  • The Marshall Tucker Band also made a recorded version faithful to the original.
  • Los Baby's, a famous 1960's band from Mexico, made the Spanish version called "Jinetes en el Cielo", which mean riders in the sky.
  • Former REO Speedwagon guitarist Gary Richrath quoted the melody of the song during his unaccompanied guitar solo on the band's 1977 live album, Live: You Get What You Play For.
  • The German "Western Metal" band Desperados/Dezperadoz (featuring a member of Sodom) covered the song on their 2000 album The Dawn of Dying.
  • The Texan band Ghoultown recorded a version of this song on their album Tales From The Dead West
  • The Spotnicks, a Swedish instrumental rock band, covered this song and released it on The Spotnicks in London.
  • Finnish Medolic Death Metal band Children of Bodom covered this song under the title 'Ghostriders in the Sky' and have released it on the special edition of their 2008 album Blooddrunk.
  • Adelaide, Australia band The Fabulaires did a cover version on their Apocalypso 12" E.P. circa 1980.
  • Baja Marimba Band recorded this song on the album "Watch Out!" in 1966.

Recordings have also been made by Mary McCaslin, Marty Robbins, Dean Martin, Boston Pops, Lawrence Welk, R.E.M., Dixie Chicks, Kaleidoscope, The Doors, ( Guy Vanderhoof), and the British gothic rock band Scary Bitches. There is a German language version of the song called "Geisterreiter" which as early as 1949 was recorded by east german entertainer Rita Paul & ther Cornel-Trio. Same year the version was released by Gerhard Wendland. More than 20 versions of the German version are known. Most notably by Howard Carpendale and Karel Gott. There is a cover by the surf-punk-electro-band Mikrowelle as well as in 2008 by German TV-entertainer Götz Alsmann feat. Bela B (from Die Ärzte).

  • The Hitchcocks, an instrumental Surf Horror Punk band from São Paulo - Brazil, covered this song and released it on The Hitchcocks EP [6].


  • Various contemporary Celtic artists, including Éire Óg and the Irish Brigade, have performed this song with an alternative set of lyrics, known as "SAM Song", about The Irish Republican Army Freedom Fighters in Northern Ireland and the fighting between the PIRA and the Police and Armed Forces. The term "SAM" from the song stands for "Surface to Air Missile", the song is about the IRA gaining possession of the missiles although they have not yet been used in battle.
  • Russ Abbot recorded a version in 1984 called "Ghost Joggers in the Sky" and is featured on the Russ Abbot's Madhouse album.
  • Gary Larson has touched on the theme in his popular cartoon The Far Side. The cartoon features a woman calling out "Henry! Hurry or you're gonna miss it - ghost riders in the kitchen!" as a pair of phantom riders herd cattle through her home. Larson doesn't think much of the cartoon now, dismissing it as what happens "when you stay up too late at night trying to think of something funny."[7]
  • The song is used by supporters of the Aston Villa F.C.. The lyrics are changed to "Holtenders in the Sky" in reference to the fans who sit in Villa Park's famous stand, The Holte End.
  • The Corries performed a version written by Bill Hill which they claimed in their introduction to be the original of the song, titled "The Portree Kid" with the chorus referring to "The teuchter that cam' frae Skye".[8]
  • Singer/comedian Sean Morey has recorded a parody called "Ghost Chickens in the Sky", in which the ghosts of chickens hunt a chicken farmer. It ends with the line, "they cooked him extra crispy/and served him with coleslaw". Moosebutter, an a cappella group out of Utah, has a recording of this song. Moosebutter has also recorded "Home Teachers In The Night", another parody of the song.
  • Similarly, filker Pete Grubbs wrote a parody called "Ghost Dachshunds In The Sky."
  • Mickey Katz recorded a parody called "Borscht Riders in the Sky".
  • Tom Paxton wrote and recorded "Yuppies in the Sky".
  • Celtic punk band The Prodigals recorded a version of the Irish traditional song "Spancil Hill", featuring the lyrics of that song set to the music (and including the "yippey yi-yay" chorus) from "Ghost Riders in the Sky" on their self-titled debut album.
  • Spike Jones, during a live show, sung the song along with one of his bandmates. Although they sang it word for word, they did so while portraying elderly, incompetent cowboys.
  • Keeter Stuart -Ghost Riders, Searchers & Cowpokes Stan's nephew Keeter Stuart released his latest album Ghost Riders, Searchers & Cowpokes as a tribute to his uncle Stan.
  • Martin Pearson wrote a parody titled "The Nazgul Song" for his Lord of the Rings comedy show The Unfinished Spelling Errors of Bolkien.
Preceded by
"Twelfth Street Rag"
by Pee Wee Hunt
Billboard Number one single of the year
"Riders in the Sky"
(Vaughn Monroe version)

Succeeded by
"Goodnight, Irene"
by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers


  1. ^ Stan Jones
  2. ^ ASCAP search
  3. ^ "Stan Jones - WMA Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-20.  
  4. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Record Research.  
  5. ^ Duane Eddy: Duane's Best
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Gary Larson. The Prehistory of The Far Side. Kansas City: Universal Press Syndicate, 1990, p. 79.
  8. ^ lyrics available at Arizona Irish Music Society and from

External links



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