TEXAS MUSIC’S goal to arrive at a list of Texas’ top 50 classic songs took months to achieve. Writers, critics and even subscribers weighed in, offering their takes on what songs should be included on a best-of list. And, in our Spring 2012 issue, after a whole lot of wrangling, we assembled our list of the 50 best, topped by Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.”
Holly’s song, recorded in February 1957, took its title and hook from John Wayne’s catchphrase in the classic John Ford western The Searchers. Despite the tune’s friendly jauntiness, the lyric is actually a macho brag: a swaggering Holly puts his girlfriend — who’s threatening to leave him — back in place with the line “That’ll be the day when I die.” A No. 1 song on both sides of the Atlantic, the hard-edged Tex-Mex sound, driven by Jerry Allison’s drumming, is reinforced by the twang of Holly’s lead guitar. And the opening — a novel, tumbling guitar riff — makes the tune one of the few great records ever made that’s instantly recognizable by the guitar intro alone.
Gene Autry and Bob Wills held down the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on our list, respectively, Autry with “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and Wills for “Faded Love.” Autry’s 1942 version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” is the most-heard version, though Perry Como and Bing Crosby released versions first (and, unlike Autry’s, theirs charted). The song is surely the first that comes to mind for most non-Texans when they think of Texas music, and for Texans … well, it’s probably the only song on our top-50 list that every one of them knows. And it may feature the the best-known handclaps in popular music.
Wills’ “Faded Love” is remembered as much for its fiddles as its haunting take on lost love. “The fiddles capture a depth of loneliness you can’t explain in words with long, drawn-out bow strokes,” fiddler Amanda Shires says, “and they do it first in unison, then in harmony — twin fiddles.”
Completing our top 10 was the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” at No. 4; Townes Van Zandt’s “For the Sake of the Song,” from his Live at the Old Quarter, Houston at No. 5; and T-Bone Walker’s “Call It Stormy Monday” (an elegant masterpiece that every good bluesman has studied) at No. 6.
Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” (“one of the most beautifully crafted records of all time,” says Rodney Crowell) held down the No. 7 spot; the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” came in at No. 8; Cindy Walker’s moving “You Don’t Know Me,” with its tender-hearted expression of unrequited love, was at No. 9; and underrated Mickey Newbury’s “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” was No. 10.
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