The Houston 100: From Scarface to Robert Earl Keen
40. “Smile,” Scarface, feat. 2Pac, 1997. This 1997 duet off of The Untouchable with 2Pac, the late James Dean of rap, was ‘Face’s biggest chart hit, his only gold single.
39. “Ain’t That a Bitch,” Johnny “Guitar” Watson, 1976. Just one of dozens of mid-‘70s funk classics from the pimp-a-riffic former bluesman Watson, one of the most widely-respected and underappreciated American musicians of the last 40 years.
38. “Lookin’ For Love,” Johnny Lee, 1980. Johnny Lee is relegated to the background in Urban Cowboy; the fiddle and steel players in his band get close-ups in the 1980 film, but not him. Luckily, the Texas City native's "Lookin' for Love" wasn't just the double-album soundtrack's breakout hit – three weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100 – it was basically the entire movie in a three-minute ballad. In the Pasadena fairy-tale romance of Bud (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger), it's not their get-acquainted dance – that's quicker two-step "Cherokee Fiddle." "Lookin' for Love" happens later, when Gilley's is practically empty. They're dancing much closer, Sissy's arms encircle Bud's neck, and he strips off her hat and his shirt before sealing their budding union with a deep soul kiss. It's that True Love moment when the audience knows that even though she will soon stray to an bullriding parolee and he to an uptown socialite, "Lookin' for Love" will allow them to find each other in the end. And sure enough, guess which song plays as Bud places the "Sissy" license plate back in the rear window of his pickup and the credits start to roll? – Chris Gray
37. “Coward of the County,” Kenny Rogers, 1980. With this one and number 36 below, Big Kenny was pretty much ubiquitous around the end of the redneck renaissance that accompanied the Carter Regime, that era of Smokey and the Bandit and Walking Tall , trucker lingo, Urban Cowboy , Farrah Fawcett, and not least, these two songs, both of which were world-sweeping affairs. Who can forget the chorus from “The Gambler?” As for “Coward of the County,” it spawned a stateside TV movie and went to #1 in the U.K., wangling to the top of the charts between records by The Special A.K.A. and Blondie.
36. “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers, 1978. (See #37 above.)
35. “Born to Lose,” Ted Daffan and His Texans, 1944 / Ray Charles, 1961. This timeless honky-tonk weeper was a #3 country hit for Daffan in 1944. Eighteen years later Ray Charles cut a lush version on his Modern Sounds in Country and Western album that graced the pop charts.
34. “Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton, 1952. Before Elvis’s smash, Big Mama Thornton had an R&B hit with this feral, slower version of the Leiber-Stoller tune. Would rank higher, but has somewhat tenuous Houston connections – although it came out on Peacock Records, it was penned by New Yorkers and also recorded there, and Thornton’s stay in Houston was somewhat transient.
33. “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” The Highwaymen, 1985. A supergroup comprised of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, the Highwaymen took this Guy Clark classic to a top 20 country charting. Like “Let Him Roll,” the song can be read sans music as a cinematic narrative, in this case an elegy about an old fatherly friend’s passing.
32. “Flyin’ Home #2,” Lionel Hampton Orchestra, featuring Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, 1942. In the 1940s, Texans had a reputation as being the wildest saxophone players in the land, and this was at a time when sax guys got all the girls and glory. Cobb and Jacquet were no exceptions, and their frenzied, “honking” playing on this swing number is cited by many rock historians as the blueprint for all sax solos to come and a key development in the evolution of rock and roll.
31. "Hold What You've Got," Joe Tex, 1964. Sweet soul music doesn't come much sweeter than this top five hit from the tail end of '64. Rivals the best of Sam Cooke in its sanctified gospel splendor, not least because of Tex's soaring falsetto. Bonus points: It features not one but two spoken mini-sermons, each culminating in yet another spine-tingling swoop up into the vocal ionosphere.
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