Playing Favorites #6: “Dallas” – The Flatlanders (1972/1992)

(originally posted June 26, 2007)


“Dallas” by The Flatlanders (1972/1992)
Written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
Well Dallas is a jewel, oh yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight.
And Dallas is a jungle but Dallas gives a beautiful light.
Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?

Well, Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down.
But when you are up, she’s the kind you want to take around.
But Dallas ain’t a woman to help you get your feet on the ground.
Yes Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down.

Clearly Jimmie Dale Gilmore has a wonderful love/hate relationship with the city. If the lyrics leave any doubt, listen to the song. It starts as a sort of upbeat alternate country (before there was such a thing) song, but the more you hear, the sadder – heck, almost tragic – the song gets. Then the saw starts. No, not a chainsaw, but an actual warbling saw, giving the song an otherworldly (if not underworldly) feel. By the time we get to the song’s bridge, you really feel for the poor schmuck singing it:

Well, I came into Dallas with the bright lights on my mind
But I came into Dallas with a Dollar and a dime.

And the third verse leaves no doubt – Dallas is one cold, heartless bastard:

Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes
A steel and concrete soul with a warm-hearted love disguise
A rich man who tends to believe in his own lies
Yeah, Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes

I’ve lived in the Dallas area, so I can say the following with some degree of validity: Dallas seems, to anyone who has never been there or generally to any large city before, to hold some type of romantic spell over people. “Big as Dallas” implies an almost endless vastness, but the city is just barely in the Top 10 largest cities in the U.S. So flying into Dallas might seem grand and magical to someone, say, from a place like Mississippi (like me), but Paris, it ain’t.

But for some, it might just be grandiose and majestic. If so, I do not judge you, but rather point out that all our places of awe contain a brokenness that, as Gilmore states, betrays “a steel and concrete soul with a warm-hearted love disguise.” You’ve been warned. Watch yourself.

Says writer Gilmore: “The hook line of the song occurred to me while I was actually flying into Dallas. The line just presented itself to me. I had all those mixed feelings about the city and the song just came gradually. I’ve never felt that I’ve got it down right, though. I’ve always been a perfectionist about that song…. I’ve had a strange relationship with the song. I’ve had periods when I wish I’d never written it, then I’ve rediscovered it, looking at it through different eyes.”

The song (and several others) was recorded in 1972 for an album, but the record company released a promotional single of “Dallas” first. It did nothing. The album was abandoned and available only in the 8-track tape format until Rounder Records bought the rights and released it on CD in 1992, creating an immediate fan base and a huge problem: The 1992 release was warmly embraced by the alt. country crowd, yet they forgot that the music they were hearing was already twenty years old. The Flatlanders, while still around, have stylistically moved on.

The Flatlanders have released other discs, none of which have matched the popularity of the album which “Dallas” opens, appropriately titled More a Legend Than a Band.

(Photo: All Music)

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