The Ramones' “7-11.”
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.
In March 1974, the Ramones performed their first gig in front of a live audience at New York club CBGB. It was a feat they'd go on to repeat 74 times by the year's end. And, by 1976, the combination of their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album, a cover story in the upstart Punk magazine and their staggering number of live shows helped make the band the figureheads of the burgeoning punk movement.
But despite their popularity with critics and members of the New York club scene, the Ramones had yet to achieve any real commercial success for their fast and loud brand of straightforward rock 'n' roll.
So, for their fifth and sixth records — 1980's Phil Spector-produced End of a Century, and 1981's Pleasant Dreams — the band experimented with material that was exceedingly poppier than anything they'd ever recorded — and uncharacteristically slick in terms of production, too. While these albums indeed signal the high-water mark, in terms of sales, for the band's career, the albums were largely panned by fans and critics alike.
The latter of those releases, though, is where you'll find the track “7-11,” which not only does a fair amount of looking back at the band's earlier material — but at some of Dallas' greatest exports as well.
One has to look no further than the song's title to find the first hints of Dallas' influence on the band.
It kind of goes without saying that the name 7-11 is indeed a nod to the chain of 7-Eleven convenience stores that got their start in Oak Cliff.
In 1927, an employee of Dallas' Southland Ice Company decided to start selling items like milk, bread and eggs from an makeshift storefront at one of the company's locations. By the next year, the company was operating a chain of Tot'em stores around the Dallas, selling gasoline in addition to food items. The two-part reasoning behind the burgeoning chain's initial name is credited to the large totem poles that were place in front of the stores. Well, that and the fact that customers “toted” their groceries away.
By 1946, the stores were so popular that they began staying open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., which nobody else was really doing at the time. The chain's name was then changed to reflect these new hours.
These days, most locations remain open 24 hours a day, though that innovation can also be credited to the chain's home state. In 1962, a 7-Eleven location in Austin was slammed following a UT game and forced to remain open all night. Soon after, the stores began staying open 24 hours on weekends. By 1963, locations in Dallas, Fort Worth and Las Vegas had adopted the 24-hour model as well.
But staying open all night wasn't 7-Eleven's only industry first. The chain was also the first to offer fresh coffee in to-go cups, to install self-serve soda fountains, and to sell pre-paid phone cards.
The chain wasn't the first to sell Slurpee-like drinks, though. That honor goes to a Dairy Queen in Kansas. But, notably, that store's original frozen drink machine was manufactured in Dallas. Furthermore, that machine would further influence the creation of the Dallas-born margarita. Heck, even the Slurpee name itself was coined by Dallas advertising agent Bob Stanford, who said he was attempting to describe the sound the drink made when being sipped through a straw. These days, the company sells enough Slurpees at its more than 50,000 locations worldwide to fill 44 Olympic-size swimming pools. Also worth noting? The bulk of the drink's flavors are created at the Dr Pepper Snapple Labs in Plano.
Stanford's contributions aside, some of the company's notable promotional moments came at the hands of Dallasite Tom Merriman, who was one of the original owners of the KLIF radio station, as well as the writer of the first radio jingles recorded in Dallas and the founder of oldest jingle company still in operation (now called TM Century, Inc.). In 1970, 7-Eleven began giving away copies of a Merriman-composed 45 record called “Dance the Slurp,” which was given away with Slurpee purchases that year. In 1999, that record was sampled by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist on 1999's Brainfreeze mix. The term “BrainFreeze,” we should point out, was first coined by 7-Eleven in 1994.
In the Ramones' song about the chain, Joey Ramone sings that, when he first laid eyes on his 7-Eleven crush, “she was standing by the Space Invaders” game. While that legendary game was created in Japan, it was largely thanks to the powerful processors being developed in the U.S. at that time, which were capable of handling the game's complex programming. The SN76477 sound chip developed by the locally-based Texas Instruments was considered groundbreaking at the time. In particular, that chip allowed 1978's Space Invaders to be the first game to incorporate continuous music throughout its gameplay, as well as the first game capable of playing music and sound effects simultaneously.
Like 7-Eleven, Texas Instruments is credited with a number of industry firsts as well. A few of these include creating the first silicon transistors (1954), transistor radios (1954), integrated circuits (1958), hand-held calculators (1967), single-chip microcomputers (1971), single-chip microprocessors (1973) and single-chip speech synthesizers (1978). The last of these was incorporated, most famously, into T.I.'s Speak & Spell learning toy that was immortalized in 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
The Ramones song's lyrics later take a nostalgic turn for a few stanzas which, among other things, reference the band's 1976 song “Blitzkrieg Bop” and 1980's “Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?” For that matter, if one exchanges the words “7-11” and “Space Invaders for “Burger King” and “soda machine,” the song's opening refrains bears a strong resemblance to the band's 1977 song “Oh Oh I Love Her So.” It's worth mentioning here that, in 1977, Burger King was owned by Pillsbury at the time, and, coincidentally, the head of Pillsbury's foodservice division was Dallas-based restaurateur Norman Brinker.
From there, the rest of the song begins to derail, taking an odd turn into a parody of a '60s teen tragedy song. Needless to say, that too is a genre with plenty of Dallas ties of its own.