In keeping with my criticism of the lyrics of old songs, let me talk about Marty Robbins’s 1959 country hit El Paso. It’s about a cowboy who falls in love with a dancer named Faleena.
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden/ I was in love, but in vain I could tell
The old “you love her, she doesn’t love you” problem, eh? Yeah, that’s no fun. So far, a good, solid tragic tale of unrequited love. But then, our narrator relates, one night a guy comes in and starts flirting and drinking with Faleena. So how does our tortured love-lorn hero handle this?
So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden/ Down went his hand for the gun that he wore/ My challenge was answered–in less than a heartbeat/ the handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor
Wait… so he killed the guy who, for all he knew, might well have been Faleena’s actual lover or husband? “Challenging his right” when he himself had none? That seems… borderline psychotic. Ok, so it’s a crime of passion and he says he regrets it but still, it’s a bit extreme.
Having done this “foul, evil deed”, our “hero” skips town and flees to New Mexico, only to decide he can’t stand to live without Faleena, and so he rides back. (This takes Robbins about as long to sing as it took you to read it–the song has some pacing issues here, and you’re left with the impression he rode away and then immediately turned around and rode back.)
When he returns to El Paso, the citizens are waiting for him and they shoot him as he rides back into town. It’s unclear what length of time he’s been gone, but apparently they recognize him instantly from hundreds of yards away and are waiting to kill him.
Finally, as he lies dying, he sees Faleena, who kisses him as he dies in her arms. (Some have suggested this is just his imagination, which would indeed be the only possible way this makes any sense. Why would she kiss the man who apparently killed her boyfriend?)
It’s a testament to how pleasant the music, and Robbins’s voice, make this song sound that it’s such a hit. Lyrically, it’s not a love song at all, but rather a song narrated by a psychopath.
It’s a mariachi song with outlaw lyrics.
Don’t get me wrong; I actually love the song. I used to play it all the time when I had to make long drives to work. It took me quite a while to realize it wasn’t so much a “romantic” song as an “extremely unreliable narrator” song.
Most of Marty Robbins’s songs are like this–beautiful, but they don’t really add up if you think about the lyrics.