Distant Drums (song)

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"Distant Drums"
Single by Roy Orbison
B-side "Falling"
Released 1963
Genre Pop
Length 3:11
Label Monument
Writer(s) Cindy Walker[1]
Producer(s) Fred Foster
"Distant Drums"
Single by Jim Reeves
from the album Distant Drums
B-side "Old Tige"
Released March 8, 1966
Recorded c. 1963 (original)
March 1965 and February 1966 (overdubs for commercial release)
Genre Country
Label RCA
Writer(s) Cindy Walker[1]
Producer(s) Chet Atkins[1]
Jim Reeves singles chronology
"Distant Drums"
"Blue Side of Lonesome"

"Distant Drums" is a song which provided US singer Jim Reeves with his only UK No. 1 hit – albeit posthumously – in the United Kingdom in 1966, some two years after his death in a plane crash on 31 July 1964.[1] The song remained in the UK Singles Chart for 45 weeks. The single also topped the US country chart for four weeks, becoming his most successful posthumous single.[2]


Although Roy Orbison had recorded the song in 1963, it is Reeves' version of "Distant Drums" which has endured over the years.

During its time at the top of the UK chart, the song beat off stiff competition from several major (and living) artists of the day. These included The Beatles - who had entered the UK chart around the same time with their double A-sided release "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" - and the Small Faces, who had also charted in the UK with "All or Nothing".

It was an unexpected achievement for a song that Reeves had recorded for its composer, Cindy Walker, under the impression it was for her private use only and had earlier been dismissed by both the RCA record company and Chet Atkins (a noted guitarist and record producer who worked with Reeves) as unsuitable for wider public release.

This may have explained the lower than usual sound quality heard on the original recording of the song. However, following Reeves' death, the track was overdubbed with an orchestral backing and released to the public as the version that later climbed up the music charts in both the United States and the UK.

Perhaps because of the timing of the song's release (during the summer of 1966), Distant Drums attracted attention to the continuation of hostilities in the Vietnam War and an increased public awareness (both in the United Kingdom and the United States) of the difficult conditions faced by U.S. armed personnel fighting in that conflict. This is due to the lyrics implying the wishes of a soldier who wants to marry his beloved (called "Mary" in the song) before he answers the call of battle in some far away land; the "Distant Drums" which make up the song's title.

"Distant Drums" first entered the UK Singles Chart during the summer of 1966, before reaching the No. 1 position on 22 September, where it remained for five weeks.[3]

It was named the UK's "song of the year" and Reeves became the first overseas performer to receive this special award.

"Distant Drums" remained at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for a total of five weeks.[4] Only Tom Jones with his recording of "Green, Green Grass of Home" (which stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks), had a longer tenure as the UK's top hit single record of 1966.[3]

That said, Wikipedia has listed 'Distant Drums' as the UK's best selling single record of 1966.[5] This is down to ′Distant Drums′ having hit number 1 on 22 September 1966, whereas 'Green Green Grass of Home' hit the top spot on 1 December 1966 and so includes three weeks at No. 1 during 1967.

The song has featured prominently on several of Reeves' albums which have been released through the years.

Chart performance[edit]

Roy Orbison[edit]

Chart (1963) Peak
Australian ARIA Chart 3

Jim Reeves[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 45
Canadian RPM Top Singles 27
UK Singles Chart[4] 1
Norway Singles Chart 2
Germany Singles Chart[6] 37

Vic Dana[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under-Hot Singles 14
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 33

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 105. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 286. 
  3. ^ a b "1966 The Number One Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  4. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 195–6. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  5. ^ List of UK Singles Chart number ones of the 1960s#1966
  6. ^ "Die ganze Musik im Internet: Charts". musicline.de. 1966-12-18. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"I Want to Go with You" by Eddy Arnold
Billboard Hot Country Singles number-one single
May 21, 1966 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Take Good Care of Her" by Sonny James
Preceded by
"All or Nothing"/"Understanding" Small Faces
UK Singles Chart number-one single
September 22, 1966 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Reach Out I'll Be There" by The Four Tops