Friday, July 23, 2021

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Female vocalists and Western movie theme songs

The 2021 edition of Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell is fast coming to a close. My final contribution to the online celebration is a look at three classic western movie theme songs.

The singing group Pals of the Golden West are unique among the groups featured in the B westerns of the 1930s and 1940s such as The Sons of the Pioneers, The Riders of the Purple Sage, and The Avalon Boys in that they spotlighted a female singer, Nora Lou Martin. Prominent as characters in the George O'Brien movie Stage to Chino, 1940 the "Pals" and Nora sing the title song written by Fleming Allen.

When former radio and big band singer Dale Evans hitched her wagon to Republic Studios and Roy Rogers, singing cowboy Roy's movies became even more musical but Dale singing a movie theme song as a solo never seemed to occur to those in charge.

The singing cowboys eventually gave way to the more adult-themed westerns heading into the 1950s. You would be hard-pressed to find many movie westerns without a theme song or many western theme songs performed by female artists. Producers generally sought out the fellows such as Frankie Laine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, or Tex Ritter.

Further research and the knowledge of others will probably be able to enlighten me as to other or more recent examples, however to my certain knowledge as an audience I can only come up with four marvelous female vocalists who introduced four memorable western themes. Click on the highlighted titles to hear the songs.

Johnny Guitar, 1954 was placed on the National Film Registry in 2008. Nicholas Ray directed Philip Yordan's screenplay and the unique result is alternately a nightmare or a genre-busting dream which cannot be ignored.

The score by the brilliant Oscar-nominated/winning composer and arranger Victor Young (Shane) features a haunting melody to which jazz singer/composer Peggy Lee provided equally haunting lyrics. While Peggy didn't sing the theme to introduce the movie, a brief vocal is heard at the ending credits. Her recording has risen in popularity thanks to inclusion in Fallout New Vegas. 

Peggy Lee sings Johnny Guitar

The 1956 Republic Studios release The Maverick Queen starring Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan featured popular recording artist Joni James singing the theme song by Victor Young and Ned Washington.

Born in Chicago, Joni turns 91 on September 22nd of this year. Joni in a television performance of The Maverick Queen.

Saddle the Wind, 1958 was written by Rod Serling and directed by Robert Parrish and John Sturges. It tells the story of two brothers from different generations and outlooks and features two actors of the same, old-school studio work from Robert Taylor and method player John Cassavetes. Julie London is the woman who comes between the brothers. The popular singer was given the Oscar-nominated/winners Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (Buttons and Bows) tune to sing over the credits as well as in the film itself.

Julie London sings Saddle the Wind

Monte Walsh
, 1970 is an elegiac western directed by William A. Fraker from Lukas Heller's screenplay based on Jack Schaefer's novel. The score is by Oscar-winner John Barry (Dances With Wolves) and the lyrics to the theme song by Oscar-winner Hal David (Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head). Cass Elliot, the glorious pop singer who came out of the group The Mamas and the Papas, and who passed much too early sang the theme song, The Good Times Are Coming.

Cass Elliot sings The Good Times Are Coming (for those who haven't seen the movie)

Cass Elliot sings The Good Times Are Coming (for those familiar with the movie)


Many thanks to Walter S. for letting me know that Maureen O'Hara, the leading lady of The Deadly Companions, 1961 sang the title song written by Marlin Skiles and Charles Fitzsimons (Maureen's brother). The Deadly Companions was the first feature film directed by writer/director Sam Peckinpah and co-starred Maureen with one of her favourite actors and friends, Brian Keith.

Maureen O'Hara sings Dream of Love from The Deadly Companions


  1. A Rod Serling western, eh? Might be worth looking up. His TZ westerns were kinda hit or miss for me but I loved the one with Lee Marvin and the hour-long one with Anne Francis.

    When I had Pandora I discovered the music of Julie London. She was quite good. Never seen her acting work though.

    1. Julie is most well known to TV fans of a certain age who saw her as Nurse Dixie McCall on Emergency! (1972-1979). The show was produced by Julie's ex-husband Jack Webb who tagged her and husband composer/musician Bobby Troup for roles in the show. I watched Emergency! but when I think of the couple it is all about the music.

  2. Paddy Lee, you are right about western movie theme songs performed by female artists, not many. I realize that Maureen O'Hara isn't famous for her singing, but I think she had a lovely voice. She sang the theme song "Dream of Love" for THE DEADLY COMPANIONS(1961). Words and music by Marlin Skiles and Charles B. FitzSimons.

    1. Oh, thank you so much! I can count on you, Walter!

      I only caught The Deadly Companions once and I may have missed the theme at the time. Maureen did indeed have a glorious voice.

    2. Paddy Lee, you're most welcome. You're not counting Musical Westerns are you, because that is almost a given. Doris Day in CALAMITY JANE(1953) singing and performing THE DEADWOOD STAGE at the beginning of the movie, although during the beginning titles you can hear a man's voice instead of Doris.'

    3. There are some very cute musicals, Calamity Jane, Annie Get Your Gun among them. I really get a kick out of Go West, Young Lady from 1941. It stars Penny Singleton, Glenn Ford, and Ann Miller. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys are a featured act.

    4. Paddy Lee, I like INCENDIARY BLONDE(filmed 1943-44, released 1945) with Betty Hutton portraying the real life Texas Guinan. The movie is very loosely based on Texas Guinan's colorful life, but I don't view movies as History lessons. I enjoyed the movie.

    5. A good role for the personality plus Hutton. Many Hollywood biopics have entertained me over the years, as well as encouraging me to do my own historical research.

  3. I LOVE this post Paddy, as I only really listen to soundtracks. These all sound really Realweegiemidget music, dontknow know of many Western soundtracks myself but know I'll definitely going to have to check out these three. The only musical Western I know is Paint Your Wagon, which is on my to review list simply for Wanderin Star, my dad used to sing it constantly.

    1. Soundtracks are wonderful. So many wonderful songs begin to make up your own personal soundtrack of your life.

      Whatever possessed Josh Logan to give Lee Marvin a song boggles my mind, but it is a highlight and wouldn't have worked any other way.

  4. I've wanted to see The Deadly Companions and Johnny Guitar for a long time, but still haven't. You can be sure I'll pay attention to the theme songs now, when I do see them!

    1. The Deadly Companions is a nice bridge between Peckinpah's television work and his ambition.

      Johnny Guitar is the strangest movie. I've seen it a few times and I'm not sure if I like it or if I'm just dumbstruck/fascinated. In any case, I can't turn away from it.

  5. I've never thought of this before because there's always the stereotype of the singing cowboy, but it makes sense.



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