Whether you discovered Kenny Rogers through counterculture rockers the Fifth Edition, his staggering list of country hits, or his recurring role as Brady Hawkes in the The Gambler TV movies, your first close encounter with the legend’s music was millions of light years away from “Planet Texas.”
Not long after Rogers jumped from RCA to Reprise, his new label home approved a bizarre tune likening aliens from outer space to stereotypical Texans as the opening track of and second single for the otherwise serious 1989 album Something Inside So Strong. The song dropped 34 years ago today, on May 27, 1989.
The unlikely hit, written by James Andrew Parks III, cracked the Top 30 on the Billboard country charts and inspired a $600,000 music video, helmed by punk-rock videographer and Earth Girls Are Easy director Julien Temple. The short film, shot for Rogers, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton‘s Something Inside So Strong television special, starts out with a group of kids asking Rogers, the town kook, about rumors spread by their parents and the local newspaper. Rogers’ character confirms his alien encounters in song, complete with visuals campier than Gene Autry’s sci-fi and country crossover moment, 1935’s The Phantom Empire.
Besides a brief gag aimed at Latin Americans that wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) make network television in 2019, the video comes off now as harmless fun. Even the least-amused viewer should crack a smile over John Denver’s surprise fly-by and other lighthearted visuals. In a May 1989 story by the Associated Press, Rogers praised the song and video as potential game-changers, capable of redefining country music.
“It’s the most unique piece of music I’ve heard in 20 years,” Rogers said at the time. “It may be a new genre. It has to do with space and time travel, but it’s also a Western. These alien cowboys pick me up and take me to a planet called Texas.
“We may do this as a movie for NBC, but we’re also toying with the idea of trying to attract a Steven Spielberg or George Lucas and making it a feature film,” he added. “It’s such an unusual concept and offers the same limitless possibilities that The Gambler did.”
In the grander scene of things, think of “Planet Texas” as a reminder that country music doesn’t have to be serious business. Even something as revered now as Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over” got labeled as a novelty in its time, so it’s not as though Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus, or anyone else has ever broken some sacred tradition that forbids a sense of humor.
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