On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June, I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. On June 30, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
There are some songs in the history of music that just keep coming back and back and back again. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the late songwriter and actor, Stan Jones (who died of cancer in 1963 at the age of 49) would be flattered to the moon and back and then some.
When Stan Jones wasn’t acting in Westerns directed by the legendary (and Portland, Maine native) John Ford, he was writing songs, and one of those songs, a 1948 composition (written at the time he worked for the National Park Service in Death Valley, California) titled “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend” became a legend all its own.
Stan Jones recorded his original version of “(Ghost) Riders” in late 1948, and from there, it became one of the most-covered songs in history. Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Peggy Lee, The Ventures, Bob James and Dick Dale have covered it. So have Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Duane Eddy and Peter, Paul & Mary. Deborah Harry of Blondie recorded a trance version of it in 1998, and more recently, Judy Collins, Concrete Blonde and various Death Metal bands have covered this classic.
“(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” has even reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in four different versions. In 1961, The Ramrods (an Instrumental Rock band out of Connecticut) reached No. 30, and Lawrence Welk reached No. 87 with his version. In 1966, the Baja Marimba Band took it to No. 52. And, in 1981, Southern Rockers the Outlaws scored the second-highest charted version in BILLBOARD Hot 100 history with their cool, rockin’ 6-minute cover.
The Outlaws, formed in Tampa, Florida in 1967, released their sixth studio album, GHOST RIDERS, in late November 1980. The band had some moderate success in the 70s with their 1975 hit, “There Goes Another Love Song,” reaching the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100.
The single released from GHOST RIDERS was “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky.” It made its Hot 100 debut at No. 83 on the last chart of 1980, a couple of days after Xmas.
Throughout the first weeks of 1981, the Outlaws steadily climbed the Hot 100, entering the Top 40 on Valentine’s Day 1981. “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” reached No. 31 in early March 1981, but fell out of the Top 40 the following week and left the Hot 100 in early April 1981 after 15 weeks on the chart. It was the last time the band would reach the Hot 100.
DREAM COVER: Someone should get Bruce Willis to cover this song, but as his famous character from the DIE HARD films, John McClane – “Yippe-ki-yay (motherfucker)! Yippie-ki-yo (motherfucker)!” Wouldn’t that be fun?
The Outlaws have been around for the better part of 50 years, with a long list of lineup changes that would take up another post entirely. None of the original members are still with the band (a couple of them died in 1995, another in 2007). They released their last studio album, IT’S ABOUT PRIDE, in 2012, and their fifth live album, LEGACY LIVE (a 2-CD set), in 2016.
It’s hard to believe that I had nearly forgotten about this amazing cover from the Outlaws when Hope brought it to my attention years ago. Long story longer, I fell in love with this version all over again and played it on STUCK IN THE 80s often during the show’s last several years.
And if I were a betting man, I think Stan Jones might have have been much more than flattered when he heard The Outlaws version, and I think he would have raised his fist up and started jammin’ to it, or at the very least, tipped his cowboy hat in appreciation. Yippie-yi-yaaaay.