(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Ghost Riders in the Sky)
Jump to: navigation, search
"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend"
Published 1948, Edwin H. Morris & Co Inc
Released June 5, 1948
Genre Country, western
Composer Stan Jones

"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend" is a cowboy-styled country/western song written in 1948 by American songwriter Stan Jones.[1] A number of versions were crossover hits on the pop charts in 1949, the most successful being by Vaughn Monroe. 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". Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3]


The song tells a folk tale 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.[1] The story resembles the northern European mythic Wild Hunt.[4]

More than 50 performers have recorded versions of the song. Charting versions were recorded by The Outlaws, Vaughn Monroe ("Riders in the Sky" with orchestra and vocal quartet), which topped the Billboard magazine charts, by Bing Crosby (with the Ken Darby Singers), Frankie Laine, Burl Ives (two different versions), Marty Robbins, The Ramrods and Johnny Cash. Other recordings were made by Eddy Arnold, Peggy Lee (with the Jud Conlon Singers), Christopher Lee, and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Gene Autry sang it in the 1949 movie, Riders in the Sky. Jones himself recorded it for his 1957 album "Creakin' Leather."[5] Children of Bodom, Impaled Nazarene and Die Apokalyptischen Reiter have also made covers.

The melody is based on the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."[6] According to The Doors' Robby Krieger, it inspired the classic song "Riders on the Storm".[7]

The song was also the inspiration for the Magazine Enterprises' horror-Western comic-book character the Ghost Rider.[8] After the trademark to the character's name and motif lapsed, Marvel Comics debuted its own near-identical, non-horror version of the character in Ghost Rider #1 (Feb. 1967), drawn by Ayers. This character was renamed the Phantom Rider when Marvel debuted its demonic motorcyclist character Ghost Rider.

The song may have also been the inspiration for the REO Speedwagon song Ridin' The Storm Out.

The chorus lines of this song are and have been since the 1960s a terrace song of the Aston Villa Football Club of England. The words have been modified to include the line "Holte Enders in the Sky," a reference to the occupants of the vast stand behind the goal at the southern end of the Villa Park stadium.[citation needed]

The song is also referenced in the Def Leppard song "Foolin'", with the line "On and on, we rode the storm".




  • Burl Ives recorded the song on February 17, 1949, and the song was released by Columbia Records as catalog No. 38445. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 22, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at No. 21.[9]
  • The version by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra with Vaughn Monroe and The Moon Men on vocals, was recorded on March 14, 1949, and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog No. 20-3411 (in USA) and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog No. BD 1247, HN 3014, HQ 2071, IM 1425 and GY 878. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 15, 1949, lasting 22 weeks and reaching No. 1.[9] Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1949.[10]
  • The Bing Crosby version was recorded on March 22, 1949, and released by Decca Records as catalog No. 24618. The recording first appeared on the Billboard charts on May 6, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at No. 14.[9]
  • The Peggy Lee version was recorded on April 18, 1949, and released by Capitol Records as catalog No. 57-608. It reached No. 2 on Billboard's Most Played By Disc Jockeys listing without appearing in the retail Top 30.
  • Spike Jones recorded the song on May 24, 1949, and it was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog No. 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.


  • It was the opening track of Scatman Crothers' 1956 album, Rock 'n' roll with Scat Man.


  • The song was recorded by the Norman Luboff Choir and released on their 1960 album, Songs of the Cowboy.
  • Curtis Lance (Dick Jensen) and the Uniques recorded an instrumental version in 1961.[11]
  • The Brothers Four recorded a driven, up-tempo version. with edited lyrics and truncated to three stanzas, for their third LP, B.M.O.C.: Best Music On/Off Campus for Columbia Records in 1961.
  • The Sons of the Pioneers included the song on their album Cool Water put out by RCA Records in 1961 under the name "Riders in the Sky".
  • A twangy guitar instrumental version by The Ramrods ‒ featuring the sounds of mooing cattle, bronco cheers, and sound of whips ‒ made the Billboard Top 30 in 1961 as well as the UK Top 10. This was covered by UK band The Scorpions (not the German rock band) on the "Parlophone" Label.
  • The Ventures made a surf rock cover of the song in 1961. A live performance of the tune, featuring surf rock band The Original Surfaris appeared in the 1962 compilation album entitled Surfs Up! At Banzai Pipeline. The performance incorporates the riff from the Jørgen Ingmann hit, "Apache".
  • Bob James, recording as The Bob James Trio, included it as the last track on his very first album Bold Conceptions released in 1962.
  • The Spotnicks, a Swedish instrumental rock band, covered this song on their 1962 album, The Spotnicks in London, Out-a space.
  • Frankie Laine recorded the song on his 1963 album, Wanderlust.
  • Dick Dale recorded a surf-rock version for his second album, King of the Surf Guitar, released in 1963. For a time, this version accompanied a NASA montage as part of the preshow video on Space Mountain at Disneyland.
  • Californian singer Peter Tevis recorded a version with orchestral and choral arrangements by Ennio Morricone for the 1965 album, Un pugno di...West.
  • Baja Marimba Band recorded this song on the album, Watch Out, in 1966.
  • Tom Jones recorded this song opening the album, Green, Green Grass of Home, in 1967.
  • Takeshi Terauchi & Bunnys recorded an instrumental version of this song on their 1967 album, The World Is Waiting For Terry
  • Davie Allan and the Arrows recorded two versions, one on the 1967 Blues' Theme album (Tower Records) and the other on the 2008 Moving Right Along album (Spinout Records).
  • Jimmy Wakely, a cowboy singer, recorded the song on Shasta Records.
  • Burl Ives made a second version of this song for his 1969 album Got the World by the Tail.




  • The Chaps released a Scottish parody version called "Rawhide" in 1982.
  • Peter, Paul & Mary recorded a parody of the song entitled "Yuppies in the Sky" on their 1990 album Flowers and Stones.
  • Terry Scott Taylor and Daniel Amos recorded a version in 1990 that appeared on The Miracle Faith Telethon compilation album.
  • Impaled Nazarene recorded a black metal version of the song, which was released on the Sadogoat EP in 1993. It was subsequently included in the CD version of their bonus album, Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz.
  • 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!"
  • Buckethead played a dub style version of the song during his Giant Robot album tour in 1994.
  • Duane Eddy brought his electrified "twangy guitar" sound along with a sax edition by Jim Horn to a 1996 version on an Curb Album Ghost Rider[14]
  • On the 1997 album, VH1 Storytellers, the song was recorded live with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. In that performance, Willie Nelson misses the start of the third verse because he forgets the text, and ends up switching the third and fourth verses.
  • Deborah Harry, lead singer of Blondie, recorded a trance version of the song, which features on the soundtrack to the film Three Businessmen (1998). The song (produced and arranged by Dan Wool and Pray for Rain) is available free on her website.[15]
  • Christopher Lee recorded a version of this song on the album Devils, Rogues & Other Villains, released by Nikolas Schreck in 1998 on his Wolfslair label.
  • The Blues Brothers performed the song in the 1998 movie Blues Brothers 2000. This version appeared on both the movie's soundtrack and the compilation album The Blues Brothers' Greatest Hits of all Time. 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"). Buster Blues' (J. Evan Bonifant) harmonica parts for the film were recorded by John Popper of Blues Traveler.
  • In 1999, Ned Sublette included a merengue rendition on his album, Cowboy Rumba.



  • Judy Collins, featuring the Nashville Rhythm Section and Ghost Riders Chorus, covered ”Ghost Riders in the Sky” on her 2010 album Paradise.
  • Florida/Utah death metal band, Gorlock, covered it on their 2011 EP entitled Despair is My Mistress.
  • The song is the opening track on Roswell Rudd's album, Trombone For Lovers.
  • A track on Drop The Lime's 2012 album Enter The Night used the instrumental of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
  • "Outsider" music star, The Space Lady, featured it on her GREATEST HITS LP.(2013, Night School Records)
  • Screaming Orphans covered on the album "Lonely Boy". (2011)
  • In 2015, a higher tempo version of Johnny Cash's cover was used on the announcement trailer for the forthcoming Space-Opera RPG, Mass Effect: Andromeda

Additional versions[edit]

Versions in various genres have also been made by the following artists:

Non-English versions[edit]


  • Estonian-Canadian musician Jüri Lipp translated and recorded a surf rock version in Estonian in 1968.



  • A French-language version entitled "Les Cavaliers du Ciel" was released by Les Compagnons de la chanson in 1949.
  • French guitarist and singer, Gill Dougherty, also released a version on his 1990 album, Live In Bourges.
  • In 1992, another French language version entitled "Où tu iras" was released by Les Naufragés, on their album "A contre-Courant"


  • In 1949, a German-language version entitled "Geisterreiter" was recorded and released by East German entertainer, Rita Paul & Her Cornel-Trio. In the same year, a version was released by Gerhard Wendland.
  • Additional German-language versions have been released by surf-punk-electro band, Mikrowelle, and television entertainer, Götz Alsmann featuring Bela B of Die Ärzte.
  • An instrumental version was done by the Austrian band "da Blechhauf`n" in 2012.[18]


  • A Lithuanian-language version of the song etitled "Jupi Ja Je'" was recorded by Adolfas Jarulis ir Estradinės melodijos in 1971.



  • In 1966, a Spanish-language version, "Jinetes en el cielo", was recorded and released by the Mexican group, Los Baby's.[19]
  • Mexican singer Pedro Vargas also recorded a version.
  • The popular singer from Spain, Raphael, also released a Spanish version in the 1970s. The lyrical subject was changed to reflect 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 destiny by crying and praying for him then letting a rose fall on his grave.


  • An Italian-language version of the song, entitled "I Cavalieri del Cielo" was recorded by famous Italian singer Gino Latilla in 1952.


  1. ^ a b "Stan Jones". Western Music Association. Retrieved 2015-03-18. 
  2. ^ ascap.com/ace ASCAP search
  3. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Houston, Susan Hilary (1964). "Ghost Riders in the Sky". Western Folklore 23 (3): 153–162. 
  5. ^ Creakin' Leather (1957). Disneyland Records WDL-3015. "Stan Jones sings his own compositions" Recorded by Walt Disney Music Co. Copyright Walt Disney Productions.
  6. ^ "(Ghost) Riders In the Sky by The Outlaws Songfacts". Songfacts.com. 1949-05-14. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  7. ^ "Riders On The Storm by The Doors Songfacts". Songfacts.com. 1950-12-30. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  8. ^ "Dick Ayers: A Life in the 'Gowanus'". Alter Ego 3 (10) (interview part 1 of 2). Autumn 2001. Archived from the original on May 31, 2010.  Co-creator Dick Ayers recalled that editor Vin Sullivan "describe[d] what he wanted in the Ghost Rider" and told Ayers to see the 1949 Disney animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, one segment of which adapted Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", featuring the Headless Horseman. "[A]nd then he told me to play the Vaughn Monroe record "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky". And then he started talking about what he wanted the guy wearing."
  9. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Record Research. 
  10. ^ Number One Song of the Year: 1946-2013, Bob Borst website
  11. ^ "DICK JENSEN - A DISCOGRAPHY". Stereo Candies. 
  12. ^ DDR Amiga 8 55 957/1982
  13. ^ ČSSR Supraphon 1113 3067 ZA/1982
  14. ^ Collar, Matt. "Ghostrider: Great Guitar Hits - Duane Eddy". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  15. ^ "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (MP3). Debora Harry. Retrieved 2015-03-18. 
  16. ^ ""Ghostriders in the Sky" on the 2006 Die Apokalyptischen Reiter EP, Friede Sei Mit Dir". discogs.com. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  17. ^ catalog and song samples
  18. ^ Video on YouTube
  19. ^ ""Jinetes en el cielo" by Mexican group, Los Baby's". popsike.com. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Shadows in the Moonlight"
by Anne Murray
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single
(Johnny Cash version)

August 11, 1979
Succeeded by
"You're the Only One"
by Dolly Parton
Preceded by
"Cruising Down the River" by Russ Morgan
U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
May 14, 1949–July 23, 1949 (Vaughn Monroe)
Succeeded by
"Some Enchanted Evening" by Perry Como