Hank Williams Jr.'s This Ain't 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.
When Hank Williams Jr. released his 1985 album Five-O, the CBS drama Dallas was just wrapping up its eighth season.
By then, the critically-acclaimed series had already set several records for the incredible number of viewers it was pulling in on a weekly basis. Simply put, mid-'80s America was obsessed with the Ewing clan. One of the family's patriarchs, J.R. Ewing, even made the cover of Time magazine in 1980.
By 1985, however, Williams had seen enough people emulating the opulent, drama-obsessed lifestyles of the Ewings. And that was the inspiration behind one of Five-O's singles, the song called “This Ain't Dallas.”
It's a sentiment we're sure the majority of North Texans living here at the time would concur with — namely because the cattle-ranching, oil-rich fashion portrayed by the characters didn't really represent life in Dallas at all.
The series, which bears a much closer resemblance to life in Houston, was re-named Dallas early on. Many people believe this was due to a growing zeitgeist nationally around the Dallas name. The still-popular 1956 musical Most Happy Fella, of course, featured the showstopper “Big D” ( a song we've featured in this column previously) and was teaching folks how to spell the name. The 1962 film State Fair further put our town in the national spotlight.
When paired with the sexiness of Dallas' now-iconic theme song, it's hard to imagine a sexier sounding city than Dallas back then.
But no matter what you call it, Williams is right: That ain't Dallas.
Take a look at the city's biggest companies. Dallas isn't home to a single Fortune 500 oil company. While one of the country's largest publicly traded companies in the world, ExxonMobil, is headquartered in nearby Irving, the biggest group of that company's employees, in fact, live and work in the Houston area. Of the company's 82,000 employees worldwide, 27,000 of them are based in Houston's upstream headquarters.
Houston, by contrast, is home to several oil-based Fortune 500 oil companies, including ConocoPhillips. That company ranks 22nd on Forbes' Global 2000 list and is the fifth largest private sector energy company in the United States.
But the Ewings didn't acquire all of their wealth from the oil industry. They made a ton of money from the cattle-ranching industry as well. As we've also mentioned in a prior column, there was a period in time, integral to Dallas' development, when 200,000-plus longhorn steers would pass through Dallas on their way up north. That era had long since passed by the time the Ewings began appearing on CBS, though.
Houston, on the other hand, remains heavily steeped in livestock tradition. The annual Houston Livestock Show, which launched in 1932, takes place over a 20-day span in late February and early March, and has grown into the largest livestock show and rodeo held anywhere in the world, attracting over 30,000 participants to the stock show portion, and over one million spectators to its rodeo events each year.
Heck, even the Ewings' iconic Southfork Ranch mansion, isn't technically located in Dallas' city limits. A full 25 miles north of town, the still-popular tourist attraction is actually found in Parker. The tiny, 5.2 square mile town boasts a population of nearly 4,000.
Not surprisingly, the Ewings wouldn't have represented a typical Parker family. According to census data, Parker boasts an average household size of 3.15 people, and $101,786.00 is the average annual household income.
But, of course, everything is bigger in (a fictional version of) Texas.
And, no matter how inaccurate the series' depiction of our town may have been, the one undeniable truth was that everybody was watching it. This is a fact even acknowledged by Williams in the lyrics of his song.
“Now we all like to watch those shows and we all like to dream,” he offers at one point. “You know J.R. is making deals and Alexis is making steam.”
By God, Williams was right. Dallas' strong viewership helped lead to the airing of its 357 episodes, which ranks it just behind Gunsmoke, Law & Order and Bonanza as one of the longest hour-long primetime dramas in American history.
Internationally, the 1980 “Who Done It” episode currently holds the record as the most-watched television episode in history, with 360 million viewers tuning in that week to find out who shot J.R.
And this phenomenon still going on. A re-boot of the series aired its first 14 episodes on TNT earlier this year and was picked up for a second season as well. So it looks like — for the time being, at least — those faulty Dallas stereotypes will continue to be pretty inescapable.
That is, unless, we all do as Williams advises at the song's close and “Turn off the TV.”