“El Paso” was a song written by Marty Robbins. It was a hit way back in 1959. Robbins wrote this song in a car as he and his family were traveling from Texas on the way to Arizona. It is also a Western saga complete with drama, violence, and romance. This song was exceptionally long by pop standards. Columbia Records bucked convention and in October 1959 released it as a single at that length anyway. The decision paid off when the song became No.1 the Hot 100 in the first week of 1960, marking the first time a song longer than four minutes to hit No. 1. The song was at 4 minutes and 38 seconds in duration.
The song is a first-person narrative told by a cowboy who is in El Paso, Texas, in the days of the Wild West. He recalls how he fell in love with a young Mexican woman, Feleena, a dancer at “Rosa’s Cantina”. When the narrator sees another cowboy sharing a drink with “wicked Feleena” he challenges the newcomer to a gunfight. He kills the challenger, then flees El Paso for fear of being hanged for murder or killed in revenge by his victim’s friends. In the act of fleeing, he commits the additional and potentially hanging offense of horse theft, further sealing his fate in El Paso. Exiting El Paso, he hides out in the “badlands of New Mexico”.
The narrator switches from the past to the present for the remainder of the song, describing the yearning that drives him to return to El Paso:
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden. My love is stronger than my fear of death.”
Upon entering the town, he is attacked and fatally wounded by a posse. At the end of the song, the cowboy recounts that Feleena has “found me,” and he dies in her arms.
Robbins went on to further successes, not only as a singer, but also an actor, TV host, NASCAR race driver, and writer. In 1976 Robbins released another sequel, “El Paso City”, in which he sings of being in an airplane over El Paso. Seeing the city reminds him of a song he had heard “long ago”. He then summarizes the original “El Paso” story.