American popular music legend Marty Robbins impacted country music for over 40 years with his mighty voice and a truly diverse sound that incorporated his interest in Spanish and Hawaiian music.
Born Sept. 25, 1925, in Glendale, Arizona, Martin David Robinson's God-given talents earned him a reputation shortly after his 1947 exit from the Navy. He soon had his own radio and TV shows in Phoenix. A TV episode featuring Little Jimmy Dickens inspired the diminutive one to land Robbins a deal with Columbia Records.
Robbins' first single, 1953's "I'll Go On Alone," topped the country charts. The '50s alone would've made him a legend behind "The Story of My Life," "Pretty Words," "Call Me Up (When I Come Calling On You)," "Just Married," "Knee Deep in the Blues," "I Can't Quit (I've Gone Too Far)" and other honorable mention singles. The '60s were just as kind, with "It's a Sin," "A Little Spot in Heaven," "Begging to You," "I Walk Alone," "Ruby Ann" and "Cowboy in a Continental Suit" adding to one of country music's most stacked back catalogs. His years as one of Nashville's elder statesmen, from the early 1970s until his untimely death from a heart attack on Dec. 8, 1982, continued to produce hits ("Love Me," "I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)") when he wasn't moonlighting as a NASCAR driver.
Aside from those hits, here's 15 more that best display the varied talents of an all-time great singer, songwriter and guitarist.
15. "Tonight Carmen"
When he wasn't telling stories about drifters, Robbins added Hawaiian (see "My Isle of Golden Dreams") and Spanish flavor to country music's hodge-podge of global influences.
14. "The Master's Call"
He wasn't a typical singing cowboy, aside from a musical yarn about "Billy the Kid" and a great cover of "Red River Valley," but Robbins consistently told tales that showed an understanding of cowpokes' search for cool water, true love and financial stability.
13. "Streets of Laredo"
This is one of several picks off 1959's crossover album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. As demonstrated by this classic, the collection of songs added some film soundtrack grit to the Western half of country & Western. The album had a 1960 sequel that's anchored by "San Angelo."
12. "Singing the Blues"
Robbins sounds great when tacking material associated with Elvis Presley. It's backed up by this song, plus versions of "Love Me Tender," "That's All Right" and "Are You Sincere."
11. "Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain"
Another Elvis song worth listing better displays Robbins' talents as a storyteller. In this case, he sings for a believer who's grown accustomed to insurmountable odds.
10. "Don't Worry"
The 2018 death of Grady Martin drew more attention to the infamous single on which he accidentally introduced a broad audience to guitar fuzz.
It's from Robbins' More Greatest Hits compilation.
9. "El Paso City"
Robbins revisited his greatest song in modern times, telling of a traveler who wonders if he might've lived out the story of Feleena in a past life.
8. "Ribbon of Darkness"
Many Robbins fans also revere the talents and influence of Gordon Lightfoot. Robbins found success with this gorgeous song panned from Gord's Gold.
7. "Among My Souvenirs"
As with the Presley examples, Robbins really shined in the '50s-'70s when covering pop standards (see also "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You"). In this case, he added his own spin to a Connie Francis hit.
6. "The Hanging Tree"
The cinematic scope of Robbins' cowboy songs never sounded bolder than it did on the title theme from a 1959 Western starring Gary Cooper and George C. Scott.
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5. "A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)"
More early rock than country, this Robbins-penned standard came to him after he rode past a high school prom. Now it represents early musical celebrations of post-war teenage culture.
4. "Big Iron"
Upbeat, acoustic-driven storytelling never sounded more lively, not even after Southern rock added more oomph to country radio.
3. "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife"
This Presley-style love ballad set the bar high for country and pop celebrations of the unflappable women behind most successful men.
2. "Devil Woman"
It's hard to argue with results once you get to the songs known by pretty much everyone of a certain age, whether they followed the country or pop charts.
1. "El Paso"
Robbin's crowning achievement, and a benchmark moment in country music history, exemplifies lengthy, narrative-driven story-songs and modern treatments of the Old West.'
For more on Robbins' life and times, read Diane Diekman's Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins.
This story previously ran on Dec. 21, 2019.
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