Music

In Texas, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’

From China Grove, to Galveston, to Luckenbach, towns in Texas topped music charts for decades.

Texas musician

From our public radio partners at The Texas Standard, W. F. Strong, a professor of culture at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, takes us for an audio tour of Texas towns and the pop hits that put them on the map.


There are thousands of songs about Texas. For example, all the way over in England, Duran Duran, the British new wave pop group, dropped a Top 20 (#14) song called “Rio” back in ’82.

And you have “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Road Goes on Forever.” As does the list.

In “Songs about Texas,” Pat Green sang “there’s a song in every town,” implying that there is a song for every town in Texas. Probably true, but only a rare few made it to the Billboard top 40.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at Pat Green’s idea with one provision: What are the songs about Texas towns that became bonafide hits? Note these are not about Texas in general, but about specific towns in Texas. I looked at songs after 1960 (when the charts were more reliable) that became hits on either the pop or country charts.

First is “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. His most famous song. It was released in ‘59 and hit No. 1 in January of 1960. And some trivia. The cantina beauty Faleena was named after his fifth grade schoolmate, Fidelina Martinez.

I must also mention Robbins’ “Streets of Laredo,” which was an unofficial hit that same year – unofficial because it was never released as a single, though it received a lot of air time.

Next, chronologically, is “Galveston” sung by Glenn Campbell, which made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. Jimmy Webb wrote it while sitting on Galveston beach.

“Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?” made it to No. 1 on the country charts in 1970, sung by Charley Pride. The song was also made popular by Texan Doug Sahm, who recorded it twice: once in 1973 and again in ‘91 with the Texas Tornadoes.

“China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers was No. 15 in 1973, written by Tom Johnston. Got the name subconsciously when the band passed through China Grove, a town of less than 1,000, while on tour, as the lyrics say, “down around San Antone.”

In the same year, 1973, “La Grange” by ZZ Top. This song only made it to N. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100, but in Texas it no doubt ranked much, much higher. From the album “Tres Hombres,” this song put the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Chicken Ranch, on the national map – made it ‘nationwide’ in ZZ Top lingo. It’s also No. 74 on Rolling Stone’s all-time best guitar songs because of Billy Gibbons’ virtuoso performance on a 1955 Fender Stratocaster.

“Luckenbach, Texas” was released in 1977 by Waylon Jennings and made it to No. 25 on the pop charts and No. 1 on country charts, where it stayed for over a month. Guess the idea of simpler country living was appealing. It made Luckenbach so popular the state had to stop making Luckenbach signs because the theft rate was breaking the budget.

George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” hit No. 4 on the country charts in 1983. It was written by Terry Stafford a decade earlier, after going to a rodeo in San Antonio and driving home to Amarillo.

I have to give a tip of the hat to “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” Though it was released before there were charts, it was a quite a phenomenon in the 1930s and ’40s. It was written by a moderately successful bandleader and native Texan named Phil Baxter, who spent a few weeks in Dumas. The song was performed by everyone – including Bob Wills and Louis Armstrong. Even the town radio station is named KDDD – for Ding Dong Daddy.

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