On Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, George Strait will ride away into the sunset as he concludes his long-running touring career. Though he will keep recording and will occasionally play the one-off gig, the days of taking another Strait show for granted appear to be over.
Before frat boys started singing about tubes on the Guadalupe River or Shiner Bock, King George introduced the country to the raw, free-wheeling sounds of Texas dancehalls when popular country music in the early 1980s was riddled with schlocky orchestral arrangements and pop crossover artists. (You know, like modern-day mainstream country.) He picked up where legends such as Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb left off and forced the industry, and a nation, to pay attention to what was going on south of the Red River.
We could go on and on about the greatness of Strait, but for now, let's focus on 10 of his greatest Texas songs.
"Somewhere Down in Texas" (2005) Though his classic, show-ending "The Cowboy Rides Away" will likely, and rightfully, be the song that the King ends his touring career with, it wouldn't be the craziest of stretches for this song to take its place for the sheer specificity of lyrics such as "I'll turn out the lights tonight/And say goodnight/But not goodbye." If he busts this out on Saturday, and you're there, tears will be involuntarily produced -- guaranteed.
"Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" (1984) Fort Worth often has to deal with being ignored when talk of the metroplex commences. (Shut up, Arlington.) But here, not only does Strait want to remember the lovely time he had in Cowtown, he wants his former lady lover, who went to be in Dallas with some non-King George idiot, to keep in mind what went down there. He doesn't want Dallas crossing her mind anymore, dang it.
"Amarillo by Morning" (1983) Strait forced a ton of people to learn about Texas towns that aren't usually at the top of most minds. It'd be tough to find a list of Strait all-time classics that doesn't have this song in its appropriate slot near the top, if not No. 1. Here, he sings about what he knows: rodeos, women, traveling the country and, yes, Texas. Bro-country rockers can't sing about the rodeo, and that's a scientific fact.
"Texas" (2005) It didn't take long for fans of Red Dirt and Texas country to grow weary of the whole "songs about Texas" trend that still somehow has a bit of steam left. But this tune, a simple ode to mostly well-known Texas points of pride, is killer because it's from King George. He's been everywhere and seen everything. Yellow roses and the Rio Grande still warrant his love and admiration.
"All My Exes Live in Texas" (1987) Though this massive hit tune's lady-killer narrator was forced to escape to Tennessee, he did his romantic damage here in Texas. Cowboys love women, and women love cowboys, until they get left for another woman or for another rodeo far away. This classic tune gets extra points for how the narrator dated ladies with fun names like "Ilene" and "Dimples."
"Big Balls in Cowtown" (1995) It took longer than most people realize for Strait to break through in commercial country music. The Nashville suits didn't like the swinging style that he unapologetically offered. He was "too Texas" during a time when the major labels wanted a golden-throated crossover crooner more than an actual cowboy singing Western swing. While he certainly didn't make this song famous (that would be Bob Wills), this version, featuring Asleep at the Wheel, of this joyful barn burner is about as Texas as country music can get, regardless of when it originated.
"Lone Star Blues" (2011) Another tune first made at least somewhat famous by another Texan (in this case, Delbert McClinton), Strait's version opens with frenzied fiddling as he sings about "a truck stop in San Angelo," where he "saw a billboard for a rodeo in El Paso." Kind of perfect, right?
"Remember the Alamo" (1996) If we're being honest here, it's always a bit iffy when someone pulls the "Alamo Card." The courageous battle over the San Antonio mission in 1836 is worthy of our solemn appreciation. But hey, King George gets plenty of passes from us, because he's King George. Plus he can turn a phrase so well and makes this ballad of lost love into a slightly cheesy, but goose-bump-inducing, plea to his woman to not give up on their love
"I Can't See Texas From Here" (1982) Here's Strait straight-up telling a lover that he just can't be himself when he isn't in his home state. Listen closely and it becomes clear that he's just laying down an exit strategy for him to move onto the next rodeo and romantic partner. Who can fault a guy for being homesick?
"Dance Time in Texas" (1985) By the time this song was released, Strait had indeed become a king. His first greatest hits package had been released earlier in the same year. The message in this number is simple, which is often something profound when it comes to the King. No artist of the past 30 years has been able to effortlessly deliver country fun and beauty through timeless simplicity better than Strait.
"Cow Town" (1986) The title says it all. Strait wants people to come to Fort Worth for fun. This is a two-stepping gem that even city boys with two left feet can manage to swing to. Sorry again, Dallas.