BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky,” vocal versions


Last week on Two for Tuesday, I featured Vaughan Monroe, and one of the songs I chose was his recording of “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky.” JoAnna said it sounded familiar, and wanted to know if anyone else had done it. Before I could answer, Kip said that there were “about a million” covers of the song and suggested that maybe I could do a Battle of the Bands featuring it.

I did some research, and while “about a million” is overstating the case a little bit, it has been done a lot since actor/singer Stan Jones wrote and recorded it in 1948. Wikipedia says that over fifty performers have covered the song, a number of which have charted. A YouTube user by the name of Lubomir Šebesta has built a single video of all the recorded versions he found on YouTube that’s almost three hours long. At an average length of three minutes, that’s close to sixty versions. Some are instrumental, some are sung by women, some by choruses…

I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew. So, I decided to “divide and conquer”: I’ll do at least two battles, one vocal, one instrumental, of this classic song. For this battle, I chose male singers. Now, you might wonder, “what about Johnny Cash?” His cover might be one of the more famous ones: he recorded it in 1979 and performed it on The Muppet Show later that year. I knew if I chose him as one of the contestants, whoever ran against him would be shut out, and I didn’t want that to happen, so I passed on him. Instead, I chose two versions that I thought were fairly equal for this battle. Your job is to listen to both versions and choose which you like better.

CONTESTANT #1: Burl Ives Burl’s cover, from 1949, was the first one recorded after Stan Jones’s original version. It was on the charts for six weeks, peaking at #21.

CONTESTANT #2: Frank Ifield British-born Australian cowboy singer Frank Ifield is best-known to us Yanks for his song “I Remember You,” and is also famous for being part of the package deal that Parlophone Records in the UK struck with Vee Jay Records in the US that also sent The Beatles. His version appeared on his 1963 UK album Born Free.

Okay, so you know the drill: Listen to both versions, decide which of them you like the best, and tell me which and why in the comments below. Then, go visit my buddy Stephen T. McCarthy, where you’ll find the current list of BotB candidates in the right-hand column (a ways down), and go visit those blogs and vote in their Battles. I’ll announce the results of this battle next Friday, December 8, so be sure and get your vote in by then.

The lines are now open. Good luck to Burl and Frank!

12 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky,” vocal versions

  1. This is a song I’ve heard since I was a wee child who dreamed of cowboy life. I’ve never been much of a Burl Ives fan, but I thought he did a nice version of this song. The Frank Ifield version is quite a production–good, but maybe a bit overproduced for this type of song, but it is really good.

    I think Burl better captures an authenticity with his rendition. My vote goes to Mr. Holly Jolly Christmas.

    Tossing It Out


  2. I’m voting for Frank. I think he is a little easier to understand. Have you ever seen the Andy Andrews bit where he sings Amazing Grace to the tune of Ghost Riders? It is a pretty funny story. Happy Friday.


  3. This song brings back so many memories of my dad. This was one of his favorite songs. I listened to each of your contestants a minimum of three times. They are both very good and I could go either way with the voting. After some deliberation, I’ve decided to give my vote to Burl Ives. I love that voice of his. Great battle, John!



  4. Great song choice, JOHN. Love it!

    By the way, had you used Johnny Cash, it would indeed have been a massive blowout, but it would NOT have been a shutout. It is nearly inconceivable that I would ever vote for Johnny Cash in any BOTB. I feel he was overrated to such a degree that it actually annoys me.

    I have always been a fan of Burl “Sam the Snowman” Ives, and I think his version of this song is magnificent. I’d heard it before and it is one of my very favorite renditions of this great song.

    I’d never even heard of Frank Ifield, but his version is terrific, too! I liked EVERYTHING about it. Man… this ain’t the slam-dunk I thought it was going to be.

    I guess I’ll have to stick with Burl on this, but if you had put Frank up against most any other version I’ve heard, I’d have probably voted for Frank. This was way too close for me!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    STMcC Presents ‘Battle Of The Bands’


  5. John,

    Excellent pair in this battle! I used “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with Debbie Harry against The Outlaws that they won. Both covers are great. The vocals are definitely different but I had no problem choosing. I absolutely love Sam the Snowman’s cover the best, so give my vote to Burl Ives!


  6. Oh wow, this is a toughie but as much as I love Burl Ives, I have to go with Frank Ifield. I had to go to YouTube to listen to his version but I found his singing better suited the song which always felt to me like a western style. Burl’s version was more folk which is what Burl does best. Frank gets my vote.


You can use Markdown in your comments. Thanks for your comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s