3 Merle Haggard Songs Every Country Fan Should Know by Heart

Merle Haggard was one of the greatest country singer/songwriters to walk the earth. He was also one of the only (reformed) criminals in the Outlaw Country movement. Haggard also helped to bring the Bakersfield Sound—a combination of western swing and honky tonk—to a national audience. He also scored 38 No. 1 singles over the course of his 55-year career.

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Haggard wrote and recorded some of the best songs in country music. Many of those songs stood the test of time and still hold up today. As a result, his music is widely considered required listening for country fans. Here are three songs that every fan of the genre should know.

“Mama Tried” Merle Haggard’s Signature Song

Merle Haggard wrote “Mama Tried” and released it as the lead single and title track from his 1968 album. The song topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It also went on to be one of Haggard’s signature songs.

“Mama Tried” tells the story of an outlaw who finds himself doing a life sentence despite having a good mother who did all she could to raise him right. Haggard likely pulled the lyrics from his life before becoming a country singer. He spent time in San Quentin before getting his life on track and it’s easy to assume that his mom did all she could to set him on the right path.

If Hag’s music is required listening for country fans, “Mama Tried” is required listening for anyone who wants to dig into that music.

“Okie from Muskogee” A Country Classic with a Murky Backstory

Haggard co-wrote this song with his drummer Roy Burris. He released it as the title track and lead single from his 1969 album. It brought him another No. 1 single.

The song is about how wholesome, God-fearing, law-abiding, and patriotic people in Muskogee, Oklahoma are. For some, it is a conservative anthem. Others believe that the song was satirical. While much evidence points to the latter, Haggard gave conflicting answers about the song’s motivations over the years. In 2010, he told American Songwriter that the song was a “character study” of the man he was when he wrote it. “I sing the song now with a different attitude,” he added, “I play it with a different projection. It’s a different song now. I’m different now.”

“The Bottle Let Me Down” The Truth About Drinking to Forget

Merle Haggard wrote “The Bottle Let Me Down” and released it as the second single from his 1966 album Swinging Doors. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Despite not being a No. 1 single, it went on to be a country classic covered by countless artists including Porter Wagoner.

In a genre full of songs about drinking away the pain of heartbreak, this song tells the truth. It’s about a man who turned to the bottle to forget about an ex until it stopped working. In the end, he was just sad and drunk.

Featured Image by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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