Dallas in Song: Chamber-of-Commerce-Approved vs. Hard Reality

by Paula Bosse

texas-in-my-soul_willie-nelson

by Paula Bosse

One of the best-known songs about Our Fair City is the dark and cynical “Dallas” by The Flatlanders (written by Panhandle-born Jimmie Dale Gilmore). It may be the best representation of the city ever written. I mean, how can you ever improve upon the immortal line, “Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye”?

In August of 1967, right in the middle of The Summer of Love and several years before The Flatlanders recorded their song, Willie Nelson recorded a very different song which was also called “Dallas.” These two songs offer the yin and the yang of Dallas, a city people seem to love or hate.

flatlanders-cover

Willie’s song, written by Stovall and Groom (the Groom being Dewey Groom, the country musician who owned Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom), appeared as the lead track on Willie’s “Texas In My Soul,” a concept album of covers (!) produced by Chet Atkins and released in 1968. I love Willie, but that song is pretty awful. I’m not sure if Willie picked it or Chet picked it, but … oh dear. I love songs from Willie’s early recording years — when he was trying to branch out from a successful songwriting career to being a performer — and he sounds great on the song, and the production is Nashville-studio-impeccable, but … those lyrics. If the Dallas Chamber of Commerce had a stamp of approval for songs about Dallas, I’m sure they would have stamped the bejabbers out of this one. It’s a very positive, damn near chirpy song about the city — and it’s got to be one of the only songs out there to name-check Central Expressway, LBJ, Love Field, Highland Park, Neiman’s, and the Cotton Bowl in lyrics like this:

Take a ride on her Central Expressway — breeze down the LBJ.
Look her over good, you’ll have to say: she’s the best-dressed city in the USA.

Uh-huh. It does have one absolutely great line which is (unintentionally) pure Dallas: “She swings like a blonde with a millionaire” — and, if you’re familiar with Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s song, you probably immediately think of these lines from his later 1972 song:

Well, Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down,
But when you are up, she’s the kind you want to take around,
But Dallas ain’t a woman to help you get your feet on the ground.
Yes Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down.

But as Jimmie Dale says, Dallas will always look great from a DC-9 at night.

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To hear the mercifully very short song Willie recorded but did not write, check it out:

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To listen to the sublime Jimmie Dale Gilmore-penned “Dallas” by The Flatlanders (sung by Gilmore, with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, accompanied by a musical saw), listen to this:

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Two very different perspectives of Dallas, one written by a conservative middle-aged local businessman in the go-getting 1960s (Dewey Groom), the other by a young, long-haired outsider in the cynical, post-hippie 1970s (Gilmore). People who actually live in Dallas are either much more tolerant of (or oblivious to) the city’s shortcomings — or we’re just born self-promoters. I’m thinking it’s mostly the latter. #worldclasscity

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Thanks to my friend Steve Ray of the Texas Music Office for bringing the Willie Nelson song to my attention!

For more on the “Texas In My Soul” album (which has what must be one of the worst album covers ever), see the review at AllMusic.com, here.

Willie’s Nelson’s website is here. (If anyone knows of a Dallas song written by Willie, please let me know!)

The Flatlanders site is here. (Incidentally, there is a very cool, previously unreleased 1972 version of “Dallas” on the new “Odessa Tapes” album.)

For my previous post on Dewey Groom, see here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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