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Texas history: We pick 20 of the best songs about Texas

Here are great 20 songs about the Lone Star state. We want to hear your favorites, too

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
"Gary Clark Jr.'s 'This Land' is an incredible song about Texas, but it's a total gut punch," says music writer Deborah Sengupta Stith.

Time to take another whack at the hornet's nest.

Since the debut of the "Think, Texas" column and newsletter in 2019, I've taken my journalistic life in my hands by listing and evaluating "Best Books About Texas" and "Best Movies About Texas."

In both cases, I heard from you. And in both cases, I devoted follow-up columns to your opinions, and wrote more columns about literary and cinematic finds during my road trips around the state.

Now for "Best Songs About Texas."

This time, I recruited a panel that includes veteran American-Statesman staff music writers Deborah Sengupta Stith and Peter Blackstock, along with Nancy Flores, former Statesman star reporter and current editor of Austin Vida digital magazine.

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Each of us nominated five candidates. You can listen to most on streaming services and YouTube. I've also included some familiar songs about Texas that did not make the panel's list.

Now it's your turn to make a brief case for your favorites. Send them to mbarnes@statesman.com.

Singer Glen Campbell, center, arrives at the Nashville Municipal Airport in 1971, not long after he made "Galveston" an immortal hit.

Our top 20 songs about Texas

Gary Clark Jr. “This Land." This Grammy-winning gut punch of a rock song that simmers with righteous rage is a brutal indictment of American racism. It’s also a song about Texas. Clark penned it as a furious retort to a neighbor who refused to believe the expansive Austin-area ranch where Clark lives with his family could be owned by a Black man.  — Deborah Sengupta Stith

Bill Neely, “Never Left the Lone Star State.” Neely mentions Athens, Naples, Rome, Ontario and several dozen other locales in this ingenious country-blues tune — then reveals in the last line that they’re all cities in Texas. — Peter Blackstock

El Tule, “Pulga 290.” Austin band El Tule’s sonic love letter to Texas flea-market life manages to evoke nostalgia while keeping your hips moving. It’s an ode to the Austin Country Flea Market on U.S. 290, the city’s oldest and largest. It’s where, as the song says, you can get a good deal on both your boots and underpants. — Nancy Flores

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Jimmy Webb, "Galveston." I was lucky enough not only to inhale this song like a melancholy Gulf breeze as a youth, haunted by the Vietnam War, but I also witnessed, as a much older man, one of Campbell's last performances of the aching tune at the Long Center in Austin. — Michael Barnes

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Texas Sun.” The golden-voiced crooner from Fort Worth and the expressive psych trio from Houston team up for an easy ramble from Fort Worth to Amarillo propelled by wafting steel guitar strains and Laura Lee’s melodic bass.  — D.S.S. 

Carrie Rodriguez's "Llano Estacado" is a "moving song about a Mexican immigrant family set in a part of Texas where the singer-songwriter’s grandmother grew up," Nancy Flores says.

Asleep at the Wheel, “Miles and Miles of Texas.” Tommy Camfield and Diane Johnson wrote it, and Jim McGraw & the Western Sundowners recorded it first in 1961, but it’s been a signature tune for the Wheel since they hit the country charts with it in the mid-1970s. — P.B.

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Johnny Hernandez and Adrian Quesada, “Ain’t No Big Thing.” Back in the early 1960s, Hernandez recorded a cover of the Radiants' “Ain’t No Big Thing” as part of his brother’s Tejano band then called Little Joe and the Latinaires (now Little Joe Y La Familia). The song is now a Chicano Soul classic and representative of the kind of soul sound that could only happen in Texas. The reimagined version is part of the album “Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul, which was produced by Adrian Quesada. — N.F. 

Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser, "Amarillo by Morning." George Strait made famous this sad-happy song about a broken-down rodeo rider, but also check out the surprising version performed on "Mongolia's Got Talent via YouTube." Priceless lyric: "Everything that I got / Is just what I got on."  — M.B.

Fat Pat, “Tops Drop.” Houston’s S.L.A.B. car culture takes a starring role in many turn of the millennium rap classics, but this one’s iconic. Rhyming over a funky electro groove, the H-town heavy who died too soon takes you on a slow, loud and banging ride through the heart of the city, trunk knocking and Swishas burning.  — D.S.S.

Butch Hancock, “Texas Air.” More folks know the title track of Hancock’s 1978 debut “West Texas Waltzes,” but this deeper cut is more broadly attuned to the whole state as opposed to a region. — P.B.

Carrie Rodriguez, “Llano Estacado.” This moving song about a Mexican immigrant family is set in a part of Texas where the singer-songwriter’s grandmother grew up. As Rodriguez describes it in her shows, “It’s a lonely stretch of Texas up north in the panhandle.” The song title translates to the Staked Plains. — N.F. 

June Hershey and Don Swander, "Deep in the Heart of Texas." Even as a kid, I thought that the official state anthem, "Texas, Our Texas," was pretty weak. I never learned the words. This old favorite, however, holds up, and not just because of its novel rhythms. Gene Autry was among the dozens of singers who covered it, but my current pick is by La Energía Norteña. — M.B.

Norah Jones, “Lonestar.” Tucked between singles on her 2002 debut “Come Away with Me,” this homesick lament from the pride of Grapevine aches with longing for wide open skies. — D.S.S.

In Tish Hinojosa's “West Side of Town,” with one song, "the singer-songwriter takes us on a beautiful and personal journey through her hometown of San Antonio, where she grew up as the youngest of 13 siblings," says Nancy Flores.

Jerry Jeff Walker, “Leavin’ Texas.” I put this on mixtapes for friends when I moved to Seattle in 1991; the irony is that Walker himself, a Yankee who arrived in Austin around 1970, never left.  — P.B.

Tish Hinojosa, “West Side of Town.” With one song, the singer-songwriter takes us on a beautiful and personal journey through her hometown of San Antonio, where she grew up as the youngest of 13 siblings. — N.F. 

Waylon Jennings, "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" — When I moved to Austin in 1984, this 1977 Waylon Jennings single about a tiny, rustic Hill Country town was still everywhere, all the time. Like many a good song, it evokes a lost time. — M.B. 

Beyoncé, “Daddy Lessons.” Queen Bey is never shy about her Lonestar roots or her H-Town pride. (“Flawless” is not just a song about female power and swagger, but very specifically about Houston swagger.) On this track, Mrs. Carter repeats “Texas” three times like an invocation over boisterous bayou brass before celebrating her father’s rough and rugged Black cowboy culture with grit and twang. — D.S.S.

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings figure into the lyrics of "Luchenbach, Texas," which could be heard everywhere all the time in Texas during the late '70s and early '80s.

Bill Neely, “Big Yellow Moon Over Texas.” Two songs from one artist, yes; but Neely was a very important (if often overlooked) 20th-century Texas musician whose influence lives on — as evidenced by this version recorded by Ed Miller, a Scotland native who made Texas his adopted home.  — P.B.

Leti Garza, “Borderland.” Our great state has seen its share of complex issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. And so, at times, our music must reflect those complexities. Garza’s thought-provoking yet hopeful ballad was inspired after her experiences working to end the detention of immigrant children in the West Texas town of Tornillo.  — N.F. 

Chris Rea. "Texas." This was the last CD I played when I left South Austin for East Austin in 1991, and the first one I played when I arrived. (I've since moved back to South Austin.) Rea sings of starting over, which a lot of people are doing in Texas, and have done so for a long time. Sure, it romanticizes the state, but that's the point, right?  — M.B.

Other fine songs about Texas

Many old Texas songs lingered on the subjects of prostitutes, saloons, misfits and outlaws. That does not disqualify their cultural contributions to the state.

"Trinity River Blues"

"Streets of Laredo"

"El Paso"

"Yellow Rose of Texas"

"London Homesick Blues"

"Do You Ever Think of Forth Worth?"

"That's Right, You're Not From Texas"

"All My Exes Live in Texas"

"Texas Flood"

"Beautiful Texas" 

"God Blessed Texas"

"Texas (When I Die)"

"Waltz Across Texas"

"Dallas from a DC-9 at Night"

"Headin' for the Texas Border"

"A State of Texas"

"Gulf Coast Highway"

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