Houston's Very Best Songs Ever

...otherwise known as the H-Town 20

1992

"Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" isn't the Geto Boys' best song, and it's sure as hell not their most violent, paranoid or depraved, but you can bet all three copies of your TPS report it's the one most white people know. In Mike Judge's 1999 cult comedy Office Space, this handy guide to everyday gangsta do's and don'ts — remember, "real gangsta-ass niggas don't flex nuts" — its brooding beats, unhurried Dirty South tempo and cocksure lyrics form a menacing backdrop as that trio of white-collar Initech geeks Peter, Samir and Michael Bolton implement their ill-­conceived embezzlement scheme. The song fits the scene as perfectly as fellow Houstonian B.J. Thomas's "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" in Goodfellas. "Gangsta" has since been reimagined as "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Yuppie" by downsized Austin GOP punks the Yuppie Pricks and straight-up covered by Waco native Carter Falco for last year's I-35 Texas Country compilation. Now that's a crossover. — C.G.

10. "You're Gonna Miss Me"

Let it shine on me:
Bobby “Blue” Bland in his early‑’60s heyday with guitarist Wayne Bennett.
Let it shine on me: Bobby “Blue” Bland in his early‑’60s heyday with guitarist Wayne Bennett.
Townes Van Zandt (left) chills with Lightnin’ Hopkins and wife at the home of Mimi Lomax (second from left).
Townes Van Zandt (left) chills with Lightnin’ Hopkins and wife at the home of Mimi Lomax (second from left).

Thirteenth Floor Elevators

The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators

1966

Without these two-and-a-half driving minutes of barely suppressed agony, kicked off by Roky Erickson's unearthly Janis Joplin-like wail, the '60s would have sounded mighty different. Its lyrics are as simple as any blues — "I gave you the warning, you never heeded it, how can you say you miss my lovin' when you never needed it?" — but it's Erickson's urgent delivery (and bitter harmonica in the outro) that really sells it. Recorded here in Houston — not Dallas, as has long been circulated — it was a smash in the Southwest, a No. 55 hit nationwide and longtime favorite of Doug Sahm, who recorded it with sons Shandon and Shawn for landmark (and shamefully out-of-print) 1990 Erickson tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye. More than 40 years later, while Erickson's recent comeback reaffirms just how true his lyrics really were — and are — "You're Gonna Miss Me" still has the power to blow your mind. Seek out the Elevators' Halloween 1966 American Bandstand performance on YouTube for proof. — C.G.

9. "Whiskey River"

Johnny Bush/Willie Nelson

Whiskey River/Shotgun Willie

1972/1973

Willie Nelson was doing all right before he recorded "Whiskey River" for 1973's Shotgun Willie, but the ode to the ­memory-erasing properties of a good sour mash sent the Red Headed Stranger's career into a completely different orbit. It's become as much a signature song as "Night Life" or "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and he's opened every concert with "Whiskey River" for decades now. Over the years, it's even lent its name to a Dallas nightclub and a brand of bourbon, both partially owned by Nelson, and is still a saloon in several states. However, "Whiskey River" was never selected as a single from Shotgun Willie, perhaps because the previous year it was a top 15 country hit for its author, Kashmere Gardens-raised Johnny Bush. A longtime friend, fellow alumnus of Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys, and Nelson's RCA labelmate at the time, Bush had several hits of his own ("You Gave Me a Mountain," "I'll Be There") in the late '60s and early '70s and was poised for even greater stardom before his voice gave out. He thought it was God's punishment for his promiscuous lifestyle, but it turned out to be a rare vocal-cord ailment called spasmodic dysphonia. Bush sought the help of a vocal coach in the mid-'80s and began a lengthy comeback that crested this year with the excellent Kashmere Gardens Mud CD and an autobiography entitled — what else? — Whiskey River. — C.G.

8. "Please Send Me Someone to Love"

Esther Phillips

Burnin' (Live)

1970

Percy Mayfield, "the poet laureate of the blues," was born in Louisiana and died in California but spent his formative years in Houston. Mayfield penned dozens of great songs — most notably "Hit the Road, Jack" for Ray Charles — but none surpassed "Please Send Me Someone to Love," one of the most-covered blues/R&B songs of all time. Everyone from Count Basie and Etta James to Fiona Apple and Jeff Buckley has taken a crack at it.

In words direct and simple as a child's Christmas prayer, Mayfield begs a higher power to send love to all: "Heaven please send to all mankind, understanding and peace of mind, and if it's not asking too much, please send me someone to love." The melody matches this exquisiteness. While it is resigned enough to lead you to believe that love is in the cards neither for the world nor the singer, a faint glimmer of hope remains on the final stanza: "Show the world how to get along, peace will enter when hate is gone, but if it's not asking too much, please send me someone to love."

Few versions surpass this one by Esther Phillips, a singer who shouldn't need any introduction to modern audiences but probably does.

A native of Galveston who spent much of her too-short life shuttling between her father's house in Houston and her mother's in Los Angeles, Phillips dominated the R&B charts in 1950, when she was all of 15 years old. Her biggest pop hit came after her rediscovery (by Kenny Rogers) 12 years later, when she scored big with her lush, majestic rendition of the country standard "Release Me."

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