‘Westward Ho!’

Enjoyment with a message

The old tales of the Wild West are fun to relive in books, movies, and on television. My wife, Marlene, and I love watching these old Western show reruns on television. The stories often contain a theme dedicated to providing a moral message. This is important and makes the shows entertaining and memorable, but I find myself relishing in the rustic living. Nothing is cozier than watching the cowpokes sit by a fire out on the prairie, their horses tethered for the night and wagons prepared for bed and food preparation. Nothing brings on my appetite more than watching cowboys eat a plate of stew or beans from a pot hanging above an outdoor fire—they make it look so tasty! Even the whiskey, poured either quickly or carefully from the bottle into the glass, looks mighty tasty on the screen.

My fascination for the Western theme extends to the music. I have always loved the cowboy songs often portrayed by the cowhands sitting next to a fire at dusk and singing a harmonic ditty. Of course, this sound was made famous by such recording artists as the Sons of the Pioneers.

I also love the brilliant and rambunctious orchestrated music—especially in the movie and television opening themes. They tend to bring about the majesty of the open plains, the crispness of the dry air, and the exuberance of those striving to make a better life.

Recently, I purchased a double CD set that featured the original movie soundtracks of the most popular cowboy Western movies. I was thrilled that it contained the original movie soundtrack themes of four Westerns Frankie Laine sang. Two of these songs, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and 3:10 to Yuma, were recorded by Frankie for release on records and were different than his movie soundtrack versions.

Frankie Laine had the perfect voice for this genre. When he sang, one pictured a rugged frontiersman interpreting his rendition of the music. Even though I have always considered Frankie a jazz and popular music singer, he could sing Western ballads and up-tempo cowboy songs with an emotion and excitement that even today remains unmatched. No wonder he was called upon to lend his vocal chords to so many Western movies that have become classics.

Television

Most people recall Frankie Laine as the singer for the long-running television classic Rawhide. Indeed, the show featured a great cast—and a young Clint Eastwood, and showcased Frankie’s famous vocal during the show’s opening and closing. Originally airing from 1959 until 1965 (and still shown today), Frankie’s theme ruled this television genre during its initial run. Frankie always said that the cast of this show was relatively unknown during its first few seasons. Actually, Frankie’s fame carried the show initially. Then, as the cast and show eventually became as popular as the theme song, prompting the show’s long run, Frankie admitted this helped him maintain his status on the airwaves!

Within the Western genre, Frankie also sang the title themes to the television series Gunslinger – 1961 and the Tim Conway comedy series Rango – 1967.

Movies

Frankie Laine enjoyed a brilliant success singing the title themes to seven Old West-themed movies. Most of these movies are regarded today as the most popular Western movies ever made. The first film, Blowing Wild 1953, was not actually a Western—taking place in South America—but Frankie’s emotional and dramatic rendition no doubt led to the list of movie vocals to follow: Man Without a Star – 1955, Strange Lady in Town – 1955, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral – 1957, 3:10 to Yuma – 1957, and Bullwhip – 1958.

In 1974, Frankie was enlisted by Mel Brooks to sing the theme song for Brooks’ comedy Blazing Saddles, which has become a cult classic. The theme song, written by Brooks and John Morris as performed by Frankie Laine, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1975, and Frankie sang it on the televised 1975 Academy Awards television program.

As I have written in previous articles, Frankie had the unique ability to sing different musical genres. When I listen to a recording of Frankie’s cowboy songs, they seem so sincere and genuine. He was the best!

Mirroring a television Western, it would be great to enjoy a plate of stew from a pot hanging above an outdoor fire. This scenario would be even better if it included listening to the magnificent songs of the Wild West by the fabulous Frankie Laine!

 

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.