One more Merle Haggard post is necessary to commemorate of the career of one of the greatest musical artists in American history. I wanted to share with you 10 songs I think are just outstanding. My list might be a little different tomorrow and these aren’t his 10 more popular songs per se. Just 10 of my favorites and a bit about why.
10) “Wishing All These Old Things Were New”
Truthfully this probably isn’t my 10th favorite Haggard song but I wanted to represent his later career. But it’s a very good song off of a very solid album with one of the great lyrics ever to start off an album:
Watching while some old friends do a line
Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind
Wishin’ it was still the thing even I could do
Wishin’ all these old things were new”
9) “Big City”
This 1981 hit was probably Merle’s best song of a lost decade. The 80s were rough on a whole lot of musicians of the 60s. This song doesn’t have the leftist politics that lots of people want from musicians to like them. It’s as incoherent as any Haggard song this way–he takes about how he just wants what’s coming to him when he leaves the city and moves to Montana, but he says to keep the retirement and the “so-called social security.” Which is of course what’s coming to him. Whatever. It’s a fine song about someone dying to leave his crappy job and the city and move to the country. A classic theme in country music and in American life.
8) “Swinging Doors”
Can’t do this list without a drinking song.
7) “Sing Me Back Home”
One of the great all-time prison songs.
6) “The Farmer’s Daughter”
Merle gets so much guff for his anti-hippie songs, and fair enough. But sometimes the characters he portrayed in his music had more space for accepting hippies. This lovely song is a good example. It’s also a good reminder that Merle was a pretty fair fiddler.
5) “Today I Started Loving You Again”
One of the great all-time broken heart songs, a staple theme of country music.
Haggard mostly avoided the big string arrangements of the 60s and 70s that came to the fore with Owen Bradley’s production of Patsy Cline and others are reached their apotheosis with Billy Sherrill’s productions of George Jones. I like that stuff fine. I also like that Haggard kept it simple, cutting through the overproduction for straight-forward unpretentious lyrics and arrangements. I think one reason I like “Carolyn” so much is that it is Haggard deciding to change things up and including some big arrangements. This version also benefits from Merle’s red leather jacket and Glen Campbell.
3) “Silver Wings”
The last time I saw Haggard, he dedicated this to the families of soldiers. My understanding is that this has nothing to do with the song as written, but it really gives the song it another meaning. Whether a military family or anyone else, there’s little as sad as watching a loved one fly away (or after 2001, leave them at security.
2) “Mama Tried”
I don’t think I need to explain this one. It’s Haggard’s most widely beloved song, for obvious reasons. Not sure about that set though.
1) “If We Make It Through December”
Simply one of my favorite songs of all time. This version is from 1978.