You Can't Go Wrong With Chimps on a Burro.
January 19, 2008 9:12 PM   Subscribe

El Paso. The lovely ballad of love and murder on the Mexican border won the very first Grammy for Country & Western for Marty Robbins in 1960. But for some it will never feel complete without Steve Martin's video, in which he recreates the lyrics with some non-union actors.

If Steve Martin harshes your mellow, feel free to watch Marty singing it with some guys in matching shirts.
posted by Bookhouse (28 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome, thanks!
posted by The Deej at 9:21 PM on January 19, 2008

Marty Robbins sings a style of "country" music I can get into. I can remember seeing the Steve Martin skit on TV when I was about ten or so. Thanks for taking me back thirty years!*

* Jesus Christ on a fucking pogo stick. (Reaches for another beer, weeps.)
posted by maxwelton at 9:31 PM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hah! I've been looking for this. I can finally explain to my fiance why I've always found this song so hilarious.
posted by Manjusri at 9:31 PM on January 19, 2008

In the same vein, but with no budget: The Ballad of Irving
posted by not_on_display at 9:32 PM on January 19, 2008

The amazing thing about Steve Martin is this: He deliberately overacts emotion to show how ridiculous our emotional turmoil usually is. The expressions on his face when he sees wicked Felina sharing a drink with a dashing young cowboy some how combine pathos and ridiculousness in a way that highlights how absurd we really are.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:38 PM on January 19, 2008

Steve Martin absolutely harshes my mellow. Thanks for the original.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:42 PM on January 19, 2008

It's not exactly Shopgirl, is it?
posted by Naberius at 9:46 PM on January 19, 2008

I first heard this song performed by the Grateful Dead, round the year 1974 or 75, in Indianapolis, Indiana, if memory serves. They covered the tune for many years in their live shows. Here they are doing a rather more tired version of it than the one I recall: this one's from 1994.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:58 PM on January 19, 2008

Just reminds me, though, how few scenario songs there are anymore. Two slightly more recent ones comes to mind, both by Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts and Black Diamond Bay.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:05 PM on January 19, 2008

Just for good measure, here's a clip from the same documentary as the Marty Robbins El Paso link from this FPP, but this time it's his earlier hit, A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation). Once again, according to his son, it's a tune Marty wrote while rolling down the highway. Love the backing vocal trio on this one!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:12 PM on January 19, 2008

marty robbins! he takes me back! all the way back to the Time Life Country Hits Compilation '04!
posted by parmanparman at 10:19 PM on January 19, 2008

flapjax, I would argue that the scenario song (or the story-song) tradition has moved from country and rock to hip-hop. (See: Eminem's
Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day," Outkast's "Ms. Jackson," etc. Also, it's never gone away in R&B.

/end derail

One of Marty's least C&W moments: "The Story of My Life," written by Burt Bacharach. Countrypolitan, ho!
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 10:31 PM on January 19, 2008

some non-union actors

They're scabs and Steve Martin's a double fink scab for employing 'em!
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 10:35 PM on January 19, 2008

flapjax, I would argue that the scenario song (or the story-song) tradition has moved from country and rock to hip-hop.

See my AskMe from last week for more examples. Ghostface Killah is a king of these.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:45 PM on January 19, 2008

Thanks for this. Steve Martin harshes my mellow, but it's that good harshing.
posted by mattoxic at 11:03 PM on January 19, 2008

Hey, joseph_elmhurst and Bookhouse, thanks for the links and such! Except for a smattering of some of the "underground" hip hop and a few other bits and pieces here and there, a lot of hip hop in recent years has passed me by: just haven't had the time or the real interest to keep up with it, tell the truth. I'll check summa those links, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:04 PM on January 19, 2008

For some odd trivia, the University of Texas at El Paso incorporates the melody of this song into their fight song.
posted by jefbla at 11:29 PM on January 19, 2008

Here they are doing a rather more tired version of it than the one I recall

1972 is better
posted by pyramid termite at 6:09 AM on January 20, 2008

Apropos of very little, my final presentation in Management of Information Organizations consisted of a version of 'El Paso' performed on the ukulele and lyrically adapted to tell, instead of a tale of love and death in the old west, the story of successful library outreach programs targeted toward migrant worker populations in the San Juan islands of Washington. That this was well-received (standing ovation and all) and that I received the highest grade possible in the class is one of the reasons I don't characterize my time in librarian college as real graduate school.
posted by stet at 9:03 AM on January 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've always liked Marty Robbins. Well some Marty Robbins. Two of my favorites: Devil Woman and Ribbon of Darkness.

As for scenario songs - one of my all time favorites is Ian Tyson singing "Rio Grande" on Great Speckled Bird, one of the records I would bring with me to a desert island.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2008

I always liked that fill guitar, even when I was way to rock to enjoy the song.
posted by cccorlew at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2008

Thanks, Bookhouse - I love this song (I'm a sucker for weepy ballads) and your post prompted me to venture onto YouTube, where I found this lovely version from the Grateful Dead in 1994. Chimps on a burro are one thing, but I prefer to watch Jerry Garcia - such beautiful economy of motion! His fingers barely seem to move, yet the music ripples out lavishly.

I'm off to check out madamjjj's links for more great ballads.

Am I safe from "your favorite band suckism" if I say I like the Grateful Dead? Because I'm only discovering them now; when Garcia was alive I listened to mostly classical music and I'm kicking myself for missing out. *facepalm*

stet, the world needs to hear your version - please post on MeFiMusic, stat!

posted by Quietgal at 10:56 AM on January 20, 2008

That guitar work is by the inimitable Grady Martin, whose playing made that recording the huge hit it was. This was country music responding to the folk revival sound, and sometimes nailing its own claim to the same roots traditions.

If you like this song, check out what I think is the finest example of the country music strophic ballad in that era, Lefty Frizzell's "Saginaw Michigan." (youtube)

And while I'm at it, more of MR's Gunfighter Ballads stuff: "The Streets of Laredo"
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2008

to those of you who dont seem to appreciate the complete and total genius lunacy of juxtaposing a domesticated elephant with the wild west I think it's time you smoke more (or better) hash.
posted by Escapetank at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2008

The song "Streets of Laredo" is interesting because, like many American folk songs (this one is also known as "The Cowboy's Lament"), it's based on older, British songs. This one is based upon "The Unfortunate Rake" which became the New Orleans standard "St. James Infirmary". Jim Hoy, Great Plains scholar and folklorist, and others argue that "Streets of Laredo," rather than being penned by the very busy traditional, was actually written by Francis Henry Maynard.

What that has to do with Martin and elephants, I don't know.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:55 PM on January 20, 2008

Sleepy Pete, not to mention "The Bard of Armagh."
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:33 PM on January 20, 2008

This was one of my father's all time favorite songs. I love it because I love him. I asked him what he'd like for Christmas in 1965 and he wanted this record. Nowhere in NYC had it. This kind of music was just not available here then. It was a North-South thing I guess. All I could get was the comedy version of some dorky guys, pre Steve Martin but just as awful. He just hated it. aww. :(

I do like Steve Martin's Ramblin Guy with the Muppets.
posted by nickyskye at 8:20 PM on January 20, 2008

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