picture of American singer Gene Autry.
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Cowboy Songs: The 15 Best in the Wild West


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The singing cowboy with a guitar was a staple in old cowboy movies of yore and cowboy songs will always be a hit in the great American West. From San Antonio to Utah and Colorado to Nashville, cowboy music has made its way all over the country. So put on your best pair of Wranglers, pretend you're on the old Chisholm Trail, and get ready to two step -- here's our roundup of the 15 best cowboy songs.

15. "Red River Valley"

Like many cowboy classics, the exact origins of "Red River Valley" are unknown and the song may be known by different names depending on where you grew up hearing it. But no matter what you call it, the song is a great American folk classic.

14. "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," Patsy Montana

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The great Patsy Montana not only wanted to be a "cowboy's sweetheart" in this western classic, she wanted to rope and ride and live like a cowboy herself.

13. "Back In The Saddle Again," Gene Autry

 

Gene Autry sings of a cowboy who is back in the saddle again. The song was written by Autry and Ray Whitley for the 1938 film Border G-Man and became Autry's signature song. Ridin' the range once more / Totin' my old .44 / Where you sleep out every night/ And the only law is right / Back in the saddle again

12. "Home On The Range,"  Bing Crosby

"Home On The Range" is known as the ballad of America. The song originates from the poem "My Western Home" by Dr. Brewster M. Higley VI. Daniel E. Kelley set the poem to music and John Lomax published the words and music together as "A Home on the Range" in his 1910 book Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. It is the official state song of Kansas.

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"Home, home on the range / Where the deer and the antelope play / Where seldom is heard a discouraging word / And the skies are not cloudy all day" 

11. "Steel Pony Blues," Dom Flemons

Though historians estimate that 1 in 4 cowboys were Black, that truth has sadly not been reflected in Hollywood films. Dom Flemons' album Black Cowboys explores the true history and legacy of Black cowboys in the U.S. and "Steel Pony Blues" tips a hat to the legendary Nat Love. 

"I wrote this song about the amazing life of Nat Love, known as 'Deadwood Dick,'" Flemons said. "In 1854, he was born into slavery in Tennessee, and at a young age he made his way out West to work on a ranch in Holbrook, Arizona. By 1890, he retired from the ranch and began to work on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad as a Pullman Porter. In his 1907 autobiography he wrote: 'I always say to the traveling American, "See America"...I have seen a large part of America, and am still seeing it, but the life of a hundred years would be all too short to see our country...' I feel honored to have followed in the footsteps of Nat Love, in his great admiration for the United States."

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10. "Streets of Laredo,"  Jim Reeves

"Streets of Laredo" is derived from the English folk song "The Unfortunate Lad." Frank H. Maynard's revision of the song is told by the perspective of a young cowboy about to die from being shot to another young cowboy who passes the first cowboy's body on the streets of Laredo.

"I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy / These words he did say as I boldly walked by / Come an' sit down beside me an' hear my sad story. / I'm shot in the breast an' I know I must die."

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9. "Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie," Johnny Cash

"Bury Me Not On The Lone Praire" is one of the most famous cowboy ballads of all time. Along with "Home On The Range," it was also published in John Lomax's 1910 book Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. The song was originally a sea shanty written by Edwin Hubbell Chapin.

"Oh, bury me not on the lone prairie / These words came low and mournfully / From the pallid lips of a youth who lay / On the bloody ground at the close of day"

8. "Git Along Little Dogies,"  Sons Of The Pioneers

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This American folk song has been around since cowboys were herding cattle (dogies) from Texas to Wyoming.

"Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies / It's your misfortune and none of my own / Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies / You know that Wyoming will be your new home."

7. "The Strawberry Roan," Marty Robbins

California cowboy Curley Fletcher wrote and published "The Outlaw Broncho," which is where "The Strawberry Roan" originated from. The song tells the story of the horse that no cowboy could ride. 

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"He's about the worst bucker I've seen on the range / He'll turn on a Nickel and give you some change / He hits on all fours and goes up on high / Leaves me a spinnin' up there in the sky."

6. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds,"  Sons Of The Pioneers

The song "Tumbling Leaves" turned into a western ballad about the Great Depression: "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

"See them tumbling down, / Pledging their love to the ground! / Lonely, but free, I'll be found, / Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds."

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5. "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky," Johnny Cash

Songwriter Stan Jones wrote this cowboy staple of ghostly cowboys chasing a phantom herd.

"As the riders leaned on by him, he heard one call his name / If you want to save your soul from hell a riding on our range / Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride / Tryin' to catch the devil herd across these endless skies."

4. "El Paso" & "El Paso City," Marty Robbins

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"El Paso" is the story of a man who leaves El Paso after killing a cowboy in lover's gunfight. "El Paso City" is about a man who flies over where the gunfight took place who feels a connection to the killer.

I saddled up and away I did go / Riding alone in the dark / Maybe tomorrow a bullet will find me / Tonight nothing's worse than this pain in my heart."

3. "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

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Ed and Patsy Bruce wrote this cowboy classic. This song won Willie and Waylon a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys / Don't let 'em pick guitars or drive them old trucks / Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such / Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys / 'Cause they'll never stay home and they're always alone / Even with someone they love

2. "Don't Fence Me In," Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers tells the story of a cowboy who wants to live a free life with his pony.

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"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don't fence me in / Let me ride through the wild open country that I love / Don't fence me in."

1. "This Cowboy's Hat," Chris Ledoux

Chris Ledoux tells the story of two cowboys tellin's stories when the older cowboy plays a trick on a biker gang.

"Right then I caught a little sadness in that gang leader's eyes / He turned back to the others and they all just kinda shuffled on outside / But when my friend turned back towards me, I noticed his ol' hat brim / Well, it was turned up, in a big ol' Texas grin."

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READ MORE: Rooted in Country: Corb Lund Shares How Marty Robbins' 'Little Joe the Wrangler' Connects Him to His Family's Cowboy Past

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