BY EDWARD MACK
There are a few common themes that run through country music: trucks, beer, trains. But once you’re down in Texas, there is one theme that outshines them all. Texans’ favorite thing to sing about, unsurprisingly, is Texas.
It seems each dancehall, each lonely stretch of highway, each back porch has inspired at least a song or two. Native son Pat Green, who has contributed his fair share of songs about Texas, once sang that there is a song in every town (“Songs About Texas”).
We’re out to prove Pat Green right.
Is there a song about every town in Texas? Is there more than one song about every town in Texas? If so, which is the best song about each Texas town?
In order to qualify, the main topic or setting of the song has to be the town, or the town has to play a large part in the effect of the song. Songs that only mention a town or make a passing reference to it do not qualify. For example, think of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”; sure, it mentions Selma and San Antonio, but the song is really about Nashville. In addition, artists do not have to be from Texas.
What did we find? There may not be a song in every town, but it’s a pretty close thing. Some of the songs are among the most iconic in country music history. Others you may not know. But one thing’s for sure: there is music in the dirt down there.
The songs about Texas towns:
Abilene: Waylon Jennings, “Abilene”
There could be a separate list of Waylon songs about places in Texas. This one is pretty straightforward: Abilene is a town he likes. It doesn’t hurt that the women are friendly.
Amarillo: George Strait, “Amarillo by Morning”
More than just a city, Amarillo represents hope in this classic Strait song.
Austin: Blake Shelton, “Austin”
It’s unclear if Austin is the name of the woman in this song, or if she has adopted her hometown’s name as her pseudonym, like Alan Jackson’s “Dallas.” But that’s what makes this song stand out over any other song about Austin. The city and the woman are inextricably tied up in one another.
Bandera: Willie Nelson, Bandera”
This instrumental wraps up Willie’s monumental album Red Headed Stranger.
Beaumont: Hayes Carll, “Beaumont”
Hayes Carll may not be in Beaumont as he is singing about it, but that’s where he comes from, and that’s where he’ll wind up one day. And hopefully, on his way back some day, he’ll pass this way again and maybe things will turn out differently.
Brownsville: Bob Dylan, “Brownsville Girl”
Bob Dylan’s sprawling masterpiece is a tapestry of stories about a girl he once loved from Brownsville. It checks in at over 11 minutes long, and each second is pure Dylan.
College Station: Robert Earl Keen, “Front Porch Song”
The same front porch in College Station produced both Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. This song is a tribute to that time and place.
Corpus Christi: Robert Earl Keen, “Corpus Christi Bay”
Keen’s tragic song about working the oil rigs and being unable to keep yourself and your family together is almost a cautionary tale.
Dallas: Joe Ely, “Dallas”
Written by Jimmy Dale Gilmore, “Dallas” is at once a love song and a scornful song. Sure, you could make it in Dallas. If you have the money.
Deer Park: Gene Autry, “Yellow Rose of Texas”
Why Deer Park? Because that’s where the Battle of San Jacinto was fought. And what does that have to do with the song? Well, the Yellow Rose of Texas was composed as a love song for a woman who was taken away from her lover by Santa Anna during the Texas War of Independence.
Fischer: Todd Snider, “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern”
There’s no much in Fischer, but this Todd Snider song does more than enough to put the Devil’s Backbone Tavern and its proprietress, Ms. Vergie, on the map.
Fort Worth: George Strait, “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?”
Fort Worth is cold when your woman has left you to be in the arms of a man in Dallas. Strait wonders if she ever still thinks about him.
El Paso: Marty Robbins, “El Paso”
Has there ever been a better story song that this tale of love and deception in the west Texas town of “El Paso”? Every time you hear it, it’s like a movie that brings you right back to gunfights and horse chases and the Wild West.
Galveston: Glen Campbell, “Galveston”
Somehow “Galveston” has been interpreted as both a protest song and a patriotic song. However you see it, it is clear that Galveston is much more than simply a woman waiting for a soldier to return.
Groom: Cross Canadian Ragweed, “42 Miles”
Sometimes you don’t mean to end up in Groom, but that’s where you are anyway. Like when your car breaks down. This song laments having to wait in Groom while your destination is 42 miles down the road.
Houston: The Gatlin Brothers, “Houston (Means that I’m one day closer to you)”
Ok, so it may not be the destination itself, but is Houston ever? In this song being in Houston is great, because it means the singer is one day closer to being reunited with his lover.
Huffman: Miranda Lambert, “The House that Built Me”
Although Miranda sings it, the song is actually about the hometown of one of the songwriters, Allen Shamblin.
Huntsville: Merle Haggard, “Huntsville”
Of his many prison songs, this one is perhaps his least repentant. The singer is on his way to jail in Hunstsville, but he’s looking for any chance to make a break.
La Grange: ZZ Top, “La Grange”
From the moment the first guitar chord rings out and ZZ Top snarls “a haw haw haw haw” you know exactly where you are. This song is about the same brothel that inspired the Dolly Parton play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Laredo: Marty Robbins, “Streets of Laredo”
Laredo has a few songs that qualify, none as iconic, however, as Marty Robbins’ “Streets of Laredo.” Adapted from an English folk song, “Streets of Laredo” has become an American folk standard and was voted as one of the best western songs of all time.
Levelland: James McMurtry, “Levelland”
In typical McMurtry fashion, “Levelland” is at once a social commentary and a bittersweet tribute to the west Texas city.
Lubbock: The Dixie Chicks, “Lubbock or Leave it”
Lubbock native Natalie Maines, singer for the Chicks, co-wrote this song not only to point out the hypocrisy in Lubbock, but in any small town in the U.S.
Luckenbach: Waylon Jennings, “Luckenbach, Texas”
What else needs to be said but, “Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys”?
North Fort Worth: Bob Wills, “Big Balls in Cowtown”
Fort Worth simply had to be separated into two distinct towns. The north Fort Worth stockyards deserve their own song. And what better song could that be than the possible double entendre of “Big Balls in Cowtown”? Unless it’s Casey Donahew’s “Stockyards.”
Paris: Ry Cooder, “Paris, Texas”
Cooder’s slide-tinged, haunting, echoing instrumental is the musical equivalent of a tumbleweed rolling by and a boot stomping in the dust. It’s from the film of the same name.
Port Aransas: Phil Pritchett, “Feeling Port Aransas”
“Feeling Port Aransas” is a melancholy song about the loss that comes with change. Standing in bleak contrast to that change: Port Aransas, which is the same as always.
San Angelo: Aaron Watson, “San Angelo”
A love song about a boy and a girl in San Angelo. Well, a boy and two girls.
San Antonio: Bob Wills, “San Antonio Rose”
Originally an instrumental track, Bob Wills added lyrics for a later “New San Antonio Rose.” Either way, the song is one of country’s most iconic. And the city’s influence is seen in the music as well as the lyrics, with the addition of Spanish brass.
South Padre Island: Eli Young Band, “Down on Padre”
This song may be less well-known, but South Padre Island definitely deserves its own anthem and this one captures it perfectly.
Stephenville: Jewel, “Stephenville, TX”
Yup, Jewel lives in Stephenville. Or at least she did when she was married to pro bull rider Ty Murray. And this song is all about life in Stephenville.
Terlingua: Gary P. Nunn, “Terlingua Sky”
Nunn plays this Texas two-step beneath the Terlingua sky. The song tells the story of a night that could only happen in the western Texas mining town.
Texarkana: Eddy Arnold, “Texarkana Baby”
Her pappy came from Texas her maw from Arkansaw. Yup, sounds like Texarkana. This song was a hit for both Arnold and Bob Wills in 1948.
Waco: Pat Green, “George’s Bar”
If you’ve ever been to the bar or even heard the song, you know that you go to George’s to get a Big O. They are the one consistent thing in a constantly changing world.
Did we miss any? Is there a song about your town that should be included on the map? Let us know in the comments below.