Greatest Western Theme Songs

The most memorable Western theme songs of the small screen.
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The most memorable Western theme songs of the small screen.

(in chronological order)

1) Have Gun—Will Travel’s (1957–63) closing song, “The Ballad of Paladin,” was written by the show’s star, Richard Boone, actor Johnny Western, and program creator Sam Rolfe; it was performed by Western. Western received a Columbia record deal for his performance, and went on to enjoy a consistent music career, co-writing songs for Bonanza and The Rebel (1959–61), and performing with Gene Autry and Johnny Cash.

2) During its eight-season run, Wagon Train’s (1957–65) theme song changed multiple times. The first season’s song “Wagon Train,” written by Henri Rene and Bob Russell, was purely instrumental. The second season of the series opened with “Roll Along Wagon Train,” written by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks, and sung by Johnny O’Neill. The third and final version of the theme song, “Wagon’s Ho,” was written and conducted by Jerome Moross. It aired during the third season and remained the theme for the remainder of the series.

3) Who can forget the opening sequence of The Rifleman (1958–63)? Chuck Connors firing off his rifle, the booming announcer’s voice, and the epic musical score in the background. Although the series used the instrumental version written by Herschel Burke Gilbert, Alfred Perry penned lyrics to the tune. The song starts with “He is no stranger to the settlers/ and the bad men know his name. / They speak of him in whispers, / but they never use his name.”

4) Keep them doggies rollin’, rawhide! The crack of a bullwhip starts off Rawhide’s (1959­–66) iconic theme song, written by Ned Washington and composed by Dimitri Tiomkin in 1958. Before writing “Rawhide,” Washington and Tiomkin had written music for famous Westerns, including High Noon (1952) and Wild is the Wind (1957). The song has been covered by the likes of Riders in the Sky, Greenbriar Boys, and Johnny Cash, and enjoyed renewed popularity when the Blues Brothers performed it in their 1980 movie.

5) Bonanza’s (1959–73) rollicking theme song scores the TV series’ famous opening sequence: a map of the Bonanza going up in flames and the horseback Cartwrights galloping toward the camera. Composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, orchestrated by David Rose, and arranged by Billy May, the song was meant to sound like the hoofbeats of running horses. Though the series used the instrumental version of the song, lyrics do exist; Johnny Cash was the first to record a full-length version of the song, with lyrics, in 1962.