Cinco de Mayo Playlist: George Strait, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Marty Robbins & More

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Kevin Winter/ACMA2014/Getty Images for ACM)

If you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo today, let the festivities begin. Of course, the holiday commemorates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

You don’t need a history lesson to partake in traditional Mexican food and libations on Cinco de Mayo. But you do need some tunes. And we’re here for you. Enjoy our playlist that features 20 country songs with south-of-the-border spins. Keep reading below for a bit of history on a few of our favorites from the playlist.

Cinco de Mayo Playlist

Marty Robbins – ‘El Paso’

Marty Robbins recorded his signature song, “El Paso,” in 1959. The Arizona native was inspired to write the quintessential cowboy story-song after a trip through the titular Texas city. The tune features a young cowboy who’s in love with a Mexican dancer, Feleena. Of course, the cowboy guns down his rival in a fit of rage before ultimately suffering the same fate.

Not only did “El Paso” reached No. 1 on both the country and pop charts, but it earned Marty the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance in 1961.

Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson – ‘Pancho & Lefty’

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson joined forces for the 1983 collaborative album, Pancho & Lefty. The duo dropped the album’s title track, which was penned by the great Townes Van Zandt, as their second single.

The tandem recorded the ballad in the wee hours of the morning after a long session together. Willie wanted Merle to sing the last verse by himself. An exhausted Merle obliged in one take, expecting to re-record the verse in the morning. But Willie kept Merle’s vocal intact, and the instant classic reached No. 1 on the country chart in 1983.

George Strait – “Blame It on Mexico”

Texas native George Strait began making road trips to Nashville in the late 1970s in the hopes of landing a recording contract. Frustrated with his musical career—or lack there of—George was ready to call it quits in 1980. However, wife Norma encouraged George to give it “one more try.” In 1980, George went back to Nashville and recorded three songs: “Nobody in His Right Mind Wouldn’t Left Her,” “The Perfect Lie,” and “Blame It on Mexico.”

The tunes caught the attention of MCA Records, which offered George a single deal (basically, the label would support one single and if it was successful, an album could follow). George recorded and released “Unwound” as his debut single, which peaked at No. 6. George had his record deal. While “Blame It on Mexico” was never released as a single, it was included on George’s debut album, Strait Country. And, Garth Brooks cites “Blame It on Mexico” as one of his favorite tunes from the King.