Early country singers might have originated the ‘spoken’ or ‘recitation’ song, but the form blossomed during the post-war years, when best-sellers like “A Deck of Cards” made a big splash on pop charts. Another dimension was added in the early 1960s when Western actor Walter Brennan used the style on several popular records, but even he didn’t achieve the success of Bonanza star Lorne Greene, who had a Number-One hit with “Ringo” in 1964.
Of course, the Canadian-born actor (who started life as Lyon Himan Green) did have a gloriously deep and rich voice, but after first building a career as a newscaster he’d mostly used his mellifluous tones in acting roles. However, as true then as is now, the stars of one medium often tried to leverage their fame into another field, and Lorne Greene was no exception. As the star of a hit TV show he had a familiar face — and voice — so making records seemed to be a natural move.
As it turned out, his initial efforts were underwhelming in terms of sales even though he did churn out enough material for a couple of albums, including one filled with ballads. (See below.) But then “Ringo” came along it surprised everybody by climbing the charts and eventually hitting the top. Greene’s story-song of a Western tale seemed to strike a chord with fans, and its success undoubtedly influenced his choices in later records. Even his next-most popular song — “The Man” — was a kind of hybrid that incorporated a lot of spoken lines, and many others followed that pattern or were just entirely recited to a musical background.
Greene ended up making five albums before giving up his musical aspirations and fully immersing himself in acting, which continued to keep him busy for the remaining two decades of his life. He died in 1987 at age 72, from complications following surgery.