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101 Reasons to Love Merle Haggard, Part II


In the first part of this series, we looked at Haggard’s rise to fame with prison songs, his right wing commentary hits, and tributes to Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. The second part of this series covers his mid-1970’s work. While these songs as a whole lack the gravitas of the material covered in Part I, they display his ability to simultaneously be a historian, traditionalist, and, at the time, a major country music superstar.

26. “Irma Jackson.” Haggard wanted this 1972 recording about interracial love to be released as a single, somewhat to counteract the image that had been created by “Okie from Muskogee.” The suits at Capital Records treated that idea like Kryptonite. Still, it remains a landmark recording in the genre.

27. “Bring It On Down to My House, Honey.” Haggard closed his 1972 “Let Me Tell You About a Song” album with a cover of Bob Wills’ 1936 rooster strutting sex song “Bring It On Down to My House, Honey.” The object of his affection is wiling to entertain the idea, as long as she can hear some fiddle playing.

28. “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad).” Haggard took this cynical look at love, penned by Hank Cochran and Glenn Martin, into a #1 country single. I’m not sure if the young folks refer to this type of relationship as “friends with benefits” or a “side chick” these days.

29. “I Wonder What She’ll Think About Me Leaving.” Conway Twitty had a Top 5 country hit with this Haggard composition and album title track in 1971, a year before Merle recorded it. In this number, Merle dreams about the heartache he will create when he leaves his woman and simultaneously wonders if she will even notice his absence.

30. “I Wonder Where Where I’ll Find You at Tonight.” At a honky tonk bar? A hidden place where she parks the car? Holding someone tight? Haggard ups the tempo while pondering the mystery of where he will find his woman on this 1972 album track.

31. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).” This lighthearted number was penned by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen in 1924 and has been performed by everyone from blackface comic performer Emmett Miller to Van Halen. From the 1973 album “I Love Dixie Blues,” it’s quite a treat to hear Haggard perform with a traditional Dixieland jazz band.

32. “I Wonder if They Ever Think of Me.” Given three of the four last titles, it’s surprising that Haggard didn’t release an album titled “Things I Wonder About.” On this 1973 #1 country single, Merle is on the front lines worrying about the mental health of soldiers in the Vietnam war.

33. “If We Can Make It Through December.” In one of Haggard’s most moving songs of the decade, an unemployed father worries about disappointing his daughter on Christmas. Not only a #1 country song, but this was Merle’s biggest crossover hit, reaching #28 on the pop charts. Although filled with melancholy, the narrator remains hopeful for better days ahead.

34. “I’m an Old Old Man (Tryin’ to Live While I Can).” On this Lefty Frizzell cover/1974 album cut, Haggard portrays an old man trying to woo a younger gal with boasts of his vitality and wealth. If you ever visit the Lefty Frizzell museum in Corsicana, Texas, you will see pictures from Merle’s visit proudly displayed.

35. “This Cold War with You.” Haggard covers Western swing bandleader/songwriter Floyd Tillman on this number about a couple trying to work through their personal Iron Curtain. A slow, jazzy take with perfect phrasing.

36. “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore.” On this 1974 #1 country hit, Merle bemoans the ending of a relationship, one where laughter has turned to silence. The narrator wishes he could find the key to relight the flame, but you know it’s not going to happen.

37. “Old Man from the Mountain.” Another 1974 #1 single, “Old Man from the Mountain” is an upbeat hillbilly number about an “uptight and tense” man who is coming home to lay claim to his woman, who had reportedly been fooling around. The instrumental break includes electric guitar, saxophone, and steel guitar.

38. “Honky Tonk Night Time Man.” An upbeat shuffle tune, Merle shuns the light and tucks away his blues in the darkness. Roy Nichols burns up his Telecaster for the guitar turn.

39. “Holding Things Together.” On this 1974 album track, Haggard must play the roles of both mother and father, pretending to his children that the wife who went away cares for them more than her behavior shows.

40. “Kentucky Gambler.” Haggard scored another #1 country hit with this Dolly Parton cover, a tale of a Kentucky man who leaves his family to get rich quick in Reno. You know how this story ends.

41. “Movin’ On.” “Big wheels rollin’/Big wheels rollin’/Movin’ On.” Not a cover of the Hank Snow classic, this is a Haggard hat tip to truck driving men, which he calls “a special breed.” Lightweight fun, a 1975 #1 country hit.

42. “It’s All in the Movies.” Haggard goes for a pop arrangement on this singer/songwriter style effort about reassurance. It even has a smooth jazz instrumental break. You guessed it, another #1 country hit.

43. “Living with the Shades Pulled Down.” The tempo and phrasing are almost too reminiscent of “Rocky Top,” but the subject matter is no one knows what goes on behind closed doors fun. Haggard was not the type of country artist who exclusively equated sex with sin.

44. “Cherokee Maiden.” “Cherokee Maiden” was written by legendary Texas songwriter Cindy Walker and performed by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys in 1941. Haggard captures the exuberant Wills’ spirit on this 1976 #1 country hit, while singing like Tommy Duncan.

45. “Colorado.” An album track written by Dave Kirby, this is a singer/songwriter meets gospel effort, a bit overwhelmed by the string work, where the state of Colorado is the perfect mental vacation spot.

46. “If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday.” Penned by Sonny Throckmorton and Glenn Martin, “If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday” was a major country hit for Merle Haggard in 1977 and a #5 R&B hit for Millie Jackson during the same year. In this song, the narrator proposes one last weekend of love and romance as a last ditch effort to save a relationship.

47. “A Working Can’t Get Nowhere Today.” In 1977, Haggard moved from Capital Records to MCA. Capital responded by putting out an album of outtakes titled “A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today,” which was stronger than many of Haggard’s mid-70’s releases. On the title track, a hard working guy pays the IRS and child support, works as hard as he can, and still can’t catch a break.

48. “When My Last Song is Sung.” A gospel song about not fearing death due to the comforts waiting in heaven. It’s 1:58 seconds long. Haggard didn’t need a lot of time to get to the point.

49. “I’m a White Boy.” The opposite of “A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today,” on this song Haggard narrates an ugly version of identity group politics. Luckily, our country is much too sophisticated to ever get drawn into this kind of thinking. The Bottle Rockets later rewrote this song and called it “Every Kinda Everything.”

50. “Running Kind.” Merle hits a sweet mid-tempo groove on this song about a man who knows he is hard wired to escape responsibility even if it’s not in his best interest to do do. Another example of Merle stretching out a bit to let his instrumentalists shine.

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