“Ringo” was a hit single for the Canadian-born actor, Lorne Greene, in 1964.
The song’s actual sung lyrics are limited to the title word alone, performed by an unidentified male chorus, presumably The Jordanaires or the Mello Men. Throughout the rest of the performance, Greene talks about the legendary gunfighter. His words tell the story, in a first-person account, of a Western lawman and his relationship with a notorious gunfighter, Ringo.
It has been pointed out that the song does not fit the known historical facts of the life of western outlaw Johnny Ringo[by whom?]. However, this did not damage the song’s popularity. In one of the first instances recorded of a country song hitting the top of the pop charts before charting country, it shot to #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts on December 5, 1964 as well as garnering the same spot on the “Easy Listening” chart, where it retained the position for six weeks. Due in part to its pop and easy-listening chart placement, the single also peaked at number twenty-one on the Hot Country Singles chart. In Canada, it hit #1 on the RPM top singles chart on December 7. The song was written by Don Robertson and Hal Blair.
The ‘B’ side of the disc contained a vocal version of the theme song of Greene’s TV show Bonanza, with lyrics that were never used on TV (See Bonanza article for more on that song).
Canadian born Lorne Greene, recorded a French language version of “Ringo” with “Du Sable” (“Sand”) on the flip side of the 45, released on the RCA Victor Canada International label # 57-5623. French is the official second language of Canada along with English.
A German-language cover by Ferdy changes the meaning somewhat and alters the ending, but is otherwise fairly close to the English version. Like Greene’s French-language edition, the single is also backed with a German version of Sand.
Like “Bonanza”, “Ringo” began as a track on Greene’s WELCOME TO THE PONDEROSA RCA Victor LP in late 1963. On the album, each track was supplemented with an introduction to each song, separately tracked. By October 1964, Ringo Starr’s popularity in the Beatles prompted “Ringo” to be released as a single, even though it was never about him. The album’s introductions were left off of the single release. “Ringo” debuted in Billboard in October 1964. By the same time, a special promotional recording by Greene (possibly Canadian only) was sent to radio stations to promote the album, where he speaks about seven of the album’s tracks. “Ringo” was the lead track. On it, he talks about the probable confusion between his song character and the Beatles and the “wonderful drummer of theirs”, assuring the listener that it is not about him. About this time, the album had been upgraded to include a notation on the front jacket, FEATURING THE BIG HIT “RINGO”. In 1965, Lorne Greene recorded a French version of “Ringo” as well.
A completely sung version of the song was recorded by Riders in the Sky. Their version is a re-make of the version done years earlier by the Sons of the Pioneers in which member Tommy Doss sang the lead.
In December 1964, the first parody of the song was issued; “Gringo”, written by Marty Cooper and H.B. Barnum. Cooper, himself, would record it under the name of El Clod, a name he had used in 1962 to record a parody on the Challenge label for the song “Wolverton Mountain”, which was called “Tiajuana Border”. This “Ringo” parody would be issued on the Vee Jay label.
Other parodies soon followed, including two by Frank Gallop with his 1966 hit single, “The Ballad of Irving” on the Kapp label, which was quickly chased with a sequel, “The Son Of Irving” on the Musicor label (also in 1966). Another happened in the 1980s by Dutch comedian Andre van Duin (as “Bingo”); and then by Country Yossi and the Shteeble Hoppers (as “Shlomo”).
The 2005 short film “Ringo”, which used the song along with public domain footage of John Wayne and Roy Rogers, won the Short Film Award for animated film at the 2005 Seattle International Film Festival.