You are on page 1of 6

ESTILISTICA INGLESA Curso 2011-2012 STYLISTIC ANALYSIS OF A POPULAR SONG, by Francisco Javier Campillo Herrera Lyrics Ghost Riders

in the Sky An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry (Chorus) Yippie yi Ohhhhh Yippie yi yaaaaay Ghost Riders in the sky Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat He's riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain't caught 'em yet 'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky On horses snorting fire As they ride on hear their cry As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies (Chorus) Yippie yi Ohhhhh Yippie yi Yaaaaay Ghost Riders in the sky Ghost Riders in the sky Ghost Riders in the sky

Following the guidelines provided by Ms. Lpez Maestre, our lecturer, I am going to make a stylistic analysis of the lyrics of this popular song. I have chosen the performance made by Johnny Cash, which I think is one of the most well-known and fully widespread and admired too, despite the fact it is widely admitted that the most known version is the one performed by Vaughn Monroe in the 50s. CONTEXT First, the sort of text is the lyrics of a popular song, in this case belonging to the American popular Country music style. With this I answer the first important topics; this is sort of text, genre, and the way it has been produced. The song was written in 1948 by Stan Jones. This composer was brought up in the West, surrounded with the entire environment which has forged the legends of the cowboys. In the case of this song, he was inspired by the story that an old cowboy told him when he was 12, during an impressive thunderstorm in the desert. The old man told Jones that behind the lightning bolts, if he looked carefully and paid attention you could see a stampede of Hell cows which were chased by ghost riders. The song is about a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the ghosts of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways he will be doomed to join them, forever "trying to catch the Devil's herd across these endless skies." The song's story seems to have a marked resemblance to the northern European mythic Wild Hunt. (Retrieved on March, 27th, from this website: http://lilesnet.com/paulshumor/midi/index.htm) The melody of this song is inspired in other song composed by Patrick Gilmore (Ireland, 1929) during the American Civil War called When Johnny Come Marching Home, which is also inspired in a traditional pacifist and anti-recruitment Irish song called Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. (Retrieved on March, 27th, from this website: http://escuchaescucha.blogspot.com.es/2009/07/ghost-riders-in-sky-por-stan-jones.html) Concerning my expectations, when I first listened the song, I got immediately fascinated with the halo of mystery, legend and moral advice it has. I didnt expect that the Country style could deal with such topics, because I thought the themes were mostly based on popular stories and customs of the cowboys in the American West, telling stories about a romantic and simple way of living, long time lost: the gathering of the herd while riding to the sunset, the loneliness of the cowboys in the wilderness, the peacefulness of the endless wild grass plains, the campfires and the stories told around them, but not such an striking and powerful tale advising of the dangers that a life full of vice and sin can have in your soul (no matter if you believe or not in Heaven or Hell). I think this last assertion has to do with how some cowboys used to waste their hard earned money in alcohol, gambling and prostitutes instead of properly supporting their families, and so, being damned to never catch the Devils Herd, becoming ghosts and eternally tormented and punished for having led such a non virtuous life. STYLE AND SOUND EFFECTS Concerning the style and sound effects of the lyrics in this song, for reasons of time and space I am forced to reduce my analysis and summarise it by saying that the

internal rhythm in all the stanzas suggests the pounding of the cattle in the plains, which can also be compared with the roar of the thunder in the sky. In order to illustrate the internal rhythm, you can notice, for instance, the rhyme of red with herd, or cows and saw, in the first stanza, or them with yet, in the third one, or change with ways on the fourth one. The pattern of rhyme is this: AABB / CCDD / EEFFF / GGHH As for the connection between sound and meaning it is important to remark that in the second stanza words like bolts, thundered, and mournful cry give us the overall impression of noise, the sighting of a supernatural vision through the eyes of a cowboy who is watching a terrifying supernatural image which is directly related with the spectacular thunderstorm that is gathering in the sky. STYLE AND WORDS. WORD CHOICE As for the morphemes, the only special element we have in the lyrics of this song is that the vocabulary is closely related with the terms used by the cowboys in their trade; broadly speaking, we can say that the words are simple, polysyllabic, medium length, concrete, particular, and from a specific area of use, which would be the ones commonly reserved for those who work with cattle and in the open air, like herd, dark and windy day, horse, horns, hooves, brands, etc. The terms are also heavily dependent on the context, and their purpose is to portrait a supernatural reality using a colourful description using phrases as mighty herd, red eyed cows, ragged sky, horns black and shiny, hooves () made of steel mournful cry GRAMMAR AND STYLE The author uses mostly statements, and their function is to portrait a scene from the point of view of the protagonist of the lyrics, this is, the cowboy, and the only variation comes at the end, when the ghost rider uses an imperative sentence in order to warn the character of the cowboy, who watches in fear and amazement the scene of the wild and damned chase of the cattle through the stormy sky. As for the sentence length, I would say most of them are long in order to describe and enumerate the elements that set the scenery, but the connectors are placed in a way that it is very easy to follow the picture which is being portrayed; it is important to notice that adverbs and prepositions like when, for, cause, as, and if mark very clearly how the story which is being told to is being developed, in a very similar way as it is done in the cinema, for instance. Thus, we have a time adverb, a causative element, and a conditional at the end, which summarizes the main message conveyed in the lyrics: a moral warning against a sinful life.

COHESION AND COHERENCE, STYLE VARIATION AND FIGURES OF SPEECH Again, due to the limits of time and space, I will try to summarize as much as I can, but I hope it could fulfil what is expected for this presentation. In this text there is a clear prevalence of links between sentences, as the connectors show us how the elements of description are related, and so the effect achieved by the description is fully fulfilled, although in the third stanza we can find an asyndeton, this is, a deliberate absence of connectors in order to give an impression of quickness (Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat) There is also a constant use of comparisons in order to give us the impression of a supernatural and horrifying image, like in this stanza: Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry. Thus, the style doesnt vary through the whole content of the lyrics; concerning the example above, the images of hardness, horror and fear are very powerful because words like hooves () made of steel black and shiny, hot breath suggest elements of delivering pain, like hammers, red hot irons, like brands, and such. Finally, with respect the dialect used, it is the one commonly used in the South West of the United States, and the function it has is to express in a very efficient way, in my opinion, the way of speaking of archetypical characters like the protagonists of the lyrics of the song, this is, cowboys; the clearest example of this dialectal use of English is in the yells of the ghost riders, the Yippie yi Ohhhhh / Yippie yi Yaaaaay that is so frequently associated with the way a herd of cattle is driven in the open air. TURN TAKING, SPEECH ACTS AND POLITENESS As for the turns of the characters, I would say that in truth there is only one who speaks in the lyrics, as we read that the rest of the content is dedicated to describe the scene of what is going on in front of the eyes of the protagonist, this is, the cowboy who stops in a ridge and watches in amazement and horror how the ghost riders chase the Devils Herd. We dont find in the text interruptions of any kind, and with a careful reading and listening of the song we can perfectly understand what it is, the content and the intentions of the author; this is just a legend of the Wild West, the description of a supernatural phenomenon which is rooted in the collective imagination of the United States; I would say that concerning politeness, it is expected that cowboys, no matter if ghostly or not, are expected to behave in a rude and somehow wild way, and thus we can consider this warning of the ghost in this situation as perfectly fit, and the way of speech as well is also coherent with the situation and matches the way the characters are expected to be.

CONCLUSSION Finally, I will finish my presentation with a quotation from a person which perfectly expresses what I think about this song, its content, and its purpose. (Retrieved from the Internet in March, 27th, from the website http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858516909/) After Looking at this song from a purely literal point of view I've concluded that it describes the temptation of a cowboy who sees a vision of demonic, red-eyed, fire-breathing cattle, thundering across the sky with the images of damned Ghost Riders chasing the demonic herd. One Ghost Rider attempts to warn the cowboy that if he gives in to the same temptation that the Ghost Riders did he would be doomed as they were now. However, we can look deeper into more symbolic meaning to this poem. The most obvious themes of this poem are temptation and judgment. The poem is written about desperadoes in western America being judged for their evil ways. This song is saying that the evil ways of cowboys doom them to Hell. The imagery of the fire-breathing herd with chased by the dammed Ghost Riders, Their faces gaunt, their eyes blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat, can be seen a common representation of the imagery of western life. Cowboys were rugged, burly, and tough men who played by there own rules. The Cowboy mentioned in the poem attempting to follow this herd along with the Ghost Riders is symbolic of him wanting to pursue the life of a true cowboy and beginning to give in to the same temptations the Ghost Riders did. All a cowboy's life he is trying to chase down the most dangerous and wild of adventures. The Ghost Riders in the sky were tempted with the most dangerous of adventures the Devil could think of. He coerced then into chasing down his mighty herd of red eyed cows. The Riders could not resist a chance to prove themselves as against the ultimate danger the Devil could offer falling victim to his sadistic trap. Now they are doomed to trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies. A task that, I'm sure, the Devil has made impossible. However, one of the Ghost Riders delivers warning to The Cowboy of the price that he and the other Riders must now pay for giving into the Devil's temptation. The Ghost rider warns the cowboy in the last stanza of the poem by saying, If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range, then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride. This poem focuses on the consequences of giving into temptation. The Riders made a deal with the Devil, one that is impossible to complete. They made the deal because as a result of there do what they want lifestyle.

REFERENCES http://escuchaescucha.blogspot.com.es/2009/07/ghost-riders-in-sky-por-stanjones.html) http://lilesnet.com/paulshumor/midi/index.htm http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858516909/)