World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Ghost Riders in the Sky


Ghost Riders in the Sky

Not to be confused with Riders on the Storm.
"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend"
Published 1948, Edwin H. Morris & Co Inc
Released 1948
Genre Country, Western
Composer Stan Jones

"(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] 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 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.[3] 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), 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) 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 Robby Krieger, it inspired the classic Doors song "Riders on the Storm".[7]

The song was also the inspiration for the Marvel Comics Western character "Ghost Rider" later renamed Phantom Rider (not to be confused with the later character named "Ghost Rider").

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.



  • 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.[8]
  • The version by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra, with Vaughn Monroe and The Moon Men on vocals, the best-selling one, was recorded on March 14, 1949 and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-3411 (in USA) and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog numbers 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 peaking at position #1.[8]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.
  • Spike Jones recorded the song on May 24, 1949 and it was 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 French translation of the song, "Les Cavaliers du Ciel", was released by Les Compagnons de la chanson in 1949.


  • The song was recorded by the Norman Luboff Choir and released in their album,Songs of the Cowboy in 1960.
  • 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.
  • 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 Top 10 in the UK. 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 was recorded in 1962 and appeared in a compilation album in 1962, titled Surfs Up! At Banzai Pipeline. The performance incorporates the riff from The Shadows' 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 and released it on album The Spotnicks in London, Out-a space, in 1962.
  • Frankie Laine recorded the song on his 1963 album Wanderlust.
  • 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, 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.
  • Davie Allan and the Arrows recorded two versions; one in 1967 on the Blues' Theme album (Tower Records) and one in 2008 on the Moving Right Along album (Spinout Records).
  • Los Baby's, a 1960s band from Mexico, made the Spanish version, titled "Jinetes en el Cielo".


  • Elvis Presley recorded it in June 1970 at MGM's soundstage in Culver City.
  • Recorded by Susan Christie in 1970, on her album Paint a Lady.
  • Mexican singer Pedro Vargas recorded a version, again called "Jinetes en el Cielo", in Spanish.
  • Raphael a Spanish singer in the 1970s 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 destiny by crying and praying for him, then letting a rose fall on his grave.
  • A Lithuanian version of the song, titled "Jupi Ja Je", was recorded by singer Adolfas Jarulis and the band "Estradinės melodijos" in 1971.
  • 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.
  • 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 of the song in 1979 for his album Silver, which was faithful to the original.


  • Country singer and rodeo cowboy Chris LeDoux recorded a version of the song for his 1980 album Old Cowboy Heroes. LeDoux's version swaps the placements of "yippie yi yay" and "yippie yi oh", and refers to the cowboy instead as a "cowpoke."
  • A version by The Shadows reached number 12 in the UK Singles Chart in 1980. This version was a semitone higher than the original.
  • Australian band The Fabulaires from Adelaide did a cover version on their Apocalypso 12" E.P. circa 1980.
  • Rock band Outlaws made a recording on their 1980 album Ghost Riders that left out the last verse. They also released a live version of the song, recorded in 1982 at the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show, which appeared on Greatest Hits of The Outlaws... High Tides Forever
  • Milton Nascimento recorded a version in Portuguese as "Cavaleiros Do Céu" on his 1981 album Caçador de Mim.
  • Dean Reed (the "Red Elvis") recorded this song on the album "Country" in 1982 in East Germany[9] and in Czechoslovakia.[10]
  • There is also a Sesame Street version called "The Dirtiest Town in the West," with altered lyrics. It was first aired in 1982.


  • 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.
  • In 1990, French guitarist and singer Gill Dougherty recorded a half vocal, half instrumental version of the tune for his LP Live in Bourges.
  • 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.
  • 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 almum 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[11]
  • In 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.
  • 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.
  • Ned Sublette included a merengue rendition on his album Cowboy Rumba (1999).



  • Judy Collins, featuring the Nashville Rhythm Section and Ghost Riders Chorus, covered ”Ghost Riders in the Sky” on her 2010 album Paradise.
  • Florida/Utah black/death metal band Gorlock covered it on their 2011 EP Despair is My Mistress.
  • Opening track on Roswell Rudd's Trombone For Lovers.


Recordings have also been made by Mary McCaslin, The Tubes (masquerading as "Cowboy Fee & The Heifer's Dream"), Roy Clark, Frank Ifield, Marty Robbins, Dean Martin, Boston Pops, Lawrence Welk, R.E.M., Dixie Chicks, Kaleidoscope, (Guy Vanderhoof), The All-American Boys Chorus, 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 & her Cornel-Trio. In the same year, a 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).

See also

  • Johnny Comes Marching Home


External links

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

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.