The Flatlanders' Dallas.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature's archives here.
Lubbock singer-songwriter trio The Flatlanders didn't really receive much attention during their original incarnation, which only lasted from 1972 to 1973.
In fact, the group's first single, “Dallas,” was such a commercial flop that their record label at the time only released the rest of their debut album as a limited edition eight-track tape. Not long after, the group disbanded.
But, in the years that followed, the band's individual members, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock, all began to find success as solo performers. And legend of their earlier work together began surfacing.
Over the years, there have been several Flatlanders reunion tours and follow-up albums. And “Dallas” has remained their signature tune. What's more, it is probably the most famous of all the songs about Dallas.
Throughout the song, the city of Dallas is referred to metaphorically as both a conniving woman and a callous rich man. More significant, though, are all the references to the city's lights, which embody Dallas' focus on showy, outward beauty and serve as a symbol of success.
“Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?,” Gilmore sings in the opening refrains. “Well, Dallas is a jewel, oh yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight. And Dallas is a jungle, but Dallas gives a beautiful light.”
One of the first cities to light its skyline, Dallas has had a long history with lighted architecture — long before Reunion Tower was erected in 1978 or and well before the Bank of America Plaza building's famous green argon tubing began lighting up the Dallas skyline in 1985.
As early as the '20s, the art deco Tower Petroleum building and others began using colored lights on their tops to stand out from an ever increasingly crowded skyline.
A decade later, lights were less a way for buildings to stand out than simply to fit in. It was during this period when one of the city's most enduring lighted fixtures, made its debut.
Back then, the Magnolia Hotel was the headquarters for the Magnolia Petroleum Company. The spinning neon Pegasus they added to the building's roof in 1934 became such a well-known fixture that it became the logo for Mobil Oil when they merged with Magnolia Petroleum in 1959. The symbol of speed, power and re-birth has since eclipsed its original intentions and become a sort of representation of the city itself.
Nowadays, Pegasus symbols can be found all over town.
But Dallas didn't stop building or lighting its downtown areas. It never has, really. In 1942, The Mercantile National Bank Building was built — the only major skyscraper built during World War II, in fact. The U.S. government had called for a halt on construction so that steel and other materials could be channeled towards the war effort. Since the Mercantile's steel was mostly prefabricated, though, they were able to obtain a special waiver from the government. In 1947, a lighted tower, which also served as a broadcast tower for KERA, was added to the building. A decade later, the tower was replaced with its current 20-foot-diameter illuminated clocks.
Before that switch took place, the Gables Republic Tower (formerly Republic Center) was completed in 1954. At that time, the spire atop the building contained a four-pointed star with a rotating beacon of light. When taller buildings began cropping up all around the tower, the powers in charge of it shut of the beacon down in favor of a plan that now finds the spire floodlit from below.
In recent years, buildings like Hunt Oil Tower and the Omni Hotel have caused quite a stir with their high-resolution LED facades which are capable of displaying words and pictures. But even that concept was kind of old hat by the time those buildings were constructed.
1600 Pacific Tower (sometimes called the LTV Tower) opened in 1964. Thirty windows on each of the tower's twenty-five floors made up what was, at one time, the world's largest electronic signboard. Though they were mainly just used to spell out “LTV,” other pieces of text and images were sometimes shown as well — including a picture of Big Tex during the State Fair.
Like Gilmore suggests in “Dallas,” though, there are many in town who agree that Dallas' love affair with lighting is somewhat garish — or the “warm hearted love disguise” meant to conceal the city's “steel and concrete soul.”
But no matter where one stands on the issue of Dallas adding lights to its downtown, the one thing that's certain is that it's definitely not going away.
After all, it's become something of a Dallas tradition.
Either way, the one thing Gilmore absolutely nailed is that it sure is hard to come to Dallas without the bright lights being on your mind.