Above is Dean Martin doing "Houston" on his television show. Epic fail, but nice outfit.
As you may have read, Forbes magazine recently determined that, by their measurement criteria, Houston is now America's coolest/hippest city.
Of course, while the rest of the world has looked down its nose for years while imagining us to be little more than a city filled with men in large hats and stupid belt buckles, our un-permitted six guns blazing as we ride our gas-guzzler mechanical bulls to work while our beehive-haired, large-chested women mind the homestead and do a little daytime sport-fucking to pass the time, in fact, most of us who live here realize Houston is a lot more like a little rougher, steamier version of Portland or San Francisco than Los Angeles or Atlanta, more like Chicago than New York City.
Many songs have name-checked Houston over the years: Steve Earle's "Fort Worth Blues" insists "Houston really ain't that bad a town/ So you hung around/ With the Fort Worth blues," while Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" proclaims he "grew up in Houston off of Wayside Drive." Crowell and Earle both wrote songs called "Telephone Road;" and Crowell did a whole album called The Houston Kid.
Jimmy Buffett's classic "Woman Goin' Crazy on Caroline Street" has always been attached to H-Town. But this just scratches the surface.
And, of course, there are any number of rap songs that reference Houston.
Anyway, Lonesome, Onry and Mean thought it would be interesting to poke around the Internet and take a sampling of how songwriters and musicians have portrayed the Bayou City in the past. Here's a few of the best and the not-so-best.
Dean Martin, "Houston"
What a cornball song, but what is even more atrocious is Martin's "cowboy" getup. If you were watching this in Des Moines or Toledo or Boise, you probably thought Houston men had a gay thing for Zorro (admittedly, some probably do, but that's part of the cool factor, see?).
As far as painting an accurate picture of Houston, these lyrics are as generic as the warning on a box of dental floss. This pop pabulum is one of Deano's biggest fails ever. Pathetic, yet people bought it. No amount of advertising can help Houston overcome an image portrayed like this.
Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers, "Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer To You)"
Nominated for a Grammy in 1983 for best country performance by a duo or group, this is another insipid piece of pop-country fluff that used to climb the country charts with all too much frequency. Sadly, the Gatlins, who grew up in LOM's hometown of Odessa, were frequent performers at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo during this period, and those rodeo people loved this cheesy, prissy tune. And what a tepid, tortured lyric. Shameful.
Don Gibson & Mickey Newbury, "If You Ever Get To Houston (Look Me Down)"
Houston's own favorite son, Mickey Newbury, once told an interviewer that his method of songwriting was simply to write his sadness. This monster lyric truly gets at the heart of the Houston the Jefferson Davis High School graduate knew firsthand from his early bar crawls.
Something of a crooner, Gibson and his producer may have put just a bit too much polish and sheen on this one, but it's still one of the all time great Houston songs.
ZZ Top - "Heaven, Hell, or Houston"
Not exactly a zenith in That Little Ol' Band From Texas' career, this odd disco goof. What does it all mean? LOM is going with nothing. Actually, now that LOM has thought about it, what were they thinking? This isn't even a good joke.
Jesse Dayton, "Harris County Blues"
Back when he was still a local hero before he moved to Austin and became a movie director, Jesse Dayton and Davin James lived down in the 'Trose,' where they frequently got in trouble or got screwed over. Dayton made a decent anthem out of his experience of being robbed with "Harris County Blues." Note that in the list of stolen stuff he checks "my Guy and Townes compilations."
Bob Dylan -- "If You Ever Go To Houston"
A bit of a Leadbelly ripoff or an homage, depending on your viewpoint, this will probably not go down as one of Dylan's most memorable lyrics. It does have some nice historical and geographical references, but this one just doesn't do H-Town proper justice. Seems more like a throwaway on what was overall a strong album, 2009's Together Through Life.
Tom Waits, "Fannin Street"
One of the great loser's anthems, Waits paints a vivid picture of the underbelly of the bustling, growing mecca that was a magnet for poor men looking for jobs. Houston's downtown was a veritable Gomorrah to some, with its speakeasies, brothels, gambling joints, honky-tonks and hop joints. If you couldn't get in trouble and fuck up your life here, you just weren't working at it.
Leadbelly, "Midnight Special"
While this is one of the most covered songs about Houston, it's a highly realistic -- if not exactly flattering -- portrait, at least as an historical time capsule. Written about the train that passed near the prison work farm in Sugar Land, which Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter knew well, the lyric sounds like something right out of a diary:
If you're ever in Houston, you better do right
You better not gamble, you better not fight
'Cause the sheriff will grab and the boys will bring you down
And the next thing you know, boy, you're penitentiary bound
Growing up in far West Texas, LOM had never even been to Houston but knew, like most other folks of the time, that Houston was one tough town.
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner, "Struggle Here In Houston"
One of the grittiest, hard-nosed, down-and-dirty testimonials about Houston ever laid to wax:
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It's a struggle here in Houston, man, to stay out of Ben Taub
You're liable to get your head bashed in if you break a $20 after dark
Bonner also had another too-real but very hilarious take on Houston titled "Houston The Action Town" that implied that a guy could meet some pretty shady women if he had a little cash, but that video has unfortunately been removed from the Web. He also penned another Fifth Ward cautionary tale, "Stay Off Lyons Avenue," about the "Bloody Fifth," long America's meanest ghetto. Just ask Texas Monthly.