5 Songs You Didn’t Know Merle Haggard Wrote For Other Artists

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Merle Haggard became a prominent face of the outlaw movement in the mid-’60s with songs that stemmed from his wayward childhood and time served at San Quentin. Foraying into country music helped to turn his life around while his songs about hard times and the working class made him the voice of a generation and an iconoclast of the genre.

Between the ’60s and the ’80s, Haggard scored 38 No. 1 hits on the U.S. country charts and often saw cross-genre appeal on pop radio. Songs like “Mama Tried” and “Big City” are undeniable classics and have earned Haggard a place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame among other accolades.

Haggard died in 2016—on his 76th birthday – after a long bout with double pneumonia. Despite not being with us anymore, his songs continue to ring out over country radio and inspire generations of country artists. We all know his hits, but what about the songs that found their way to other musicians? We’re going through 5 songs you didn’t know Merle Haggard wrote for other artists, below.

1. “Good Ole American Guest,” Johnny Cash (recorded in 1981)

Written by Merle Haggard

Though Haggard also released a version of “Good Ole American Guest,” Johnny Cash was the first to step into the studio to record it. A classic country croon about skipping town on a freight train and living the life of a vagabond, Haggard penned this song in 1981 and featured it on his Big City album. Cash’s album found middling success while Haggard’s peaked at number three. Both versions, sung by two famed drifters, capture the timeless charm of Haggard’s writing.

I’m longing to ride on a freight train
And pull a slouch hat down low on my ears
I’m yearning to leave this old town on the fly
And lose all my troubles and cares
In this day of airplane and highways
The slow way is sometimes the best

2. “House of Memories,” Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (recorded in 1966)

Written by Merle Haggard

In the same fashion, Buck Owens took “House of Memories” for a spin in the studio a year before Haggard. He and his Buckaroos delivered a version of the track rife with pedal steel and a shuffling acoustic trill. Though it was first recorded a year prior, it appeared on Owens’ 1967 album, Your Tender Loving Care. Despite letting Owens record the song in February of 1966, Haggard released it a few months later on his own album, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive—it seems he liked to beat other artists to the punch.

My house of memories is all that I own
I live in misery now that you’re gone
A constant reminder of what used to be
Is torturing me in my house of memories

My house is a prison where mem’ries surround me
There’s no place to hide me for your mem’ry can’t find me
My house of mem’ries is all that I own
I live in mis’ry now that you’re gone

3. “Poor, Broke, Mixed Up Mess of a Heart,” Tommy Collins (1966)

Written by Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins

Haggard and Tommy Collins co-wrote “Poor, Broke, Mixed Up Mess of a Heart” in 1966 with Collins being the first to record and release the track on his album, Leonard. The song is a foot-tapping tale about heartache caused by a woman with a one-way ticket out of Collins’ life. It’s classic Haggard fodder and feels as country as country gets. Haggard’s subsequent recording of the song is worthy of a listen as well.

Oh, you poor broke mixed-up mess of a heart
A little bitty woman just took you and tore you apart
I tried to warn you a thousand times
You wouldn’t listen or pay no mind
You poor broke mixed-up mess of a heart

I watched her buy her ticket at Charlotte, North Carolina
I heard her say, “One-way, please, for Denver”
She’s going to meet that other guy
And It won’t do us no good to cry
‘Cause she’s wearing his ring on her finger

4. “Willie’s Winter Love,” Dottie West, (1970)

Written by Merle Haggard

A gender-swapped version of this song (titled “Shelly’s Winter Love”) appears on Haggard and the Strangers’ 1971 album, Hag, but Dottie West first sang it a year prior with a man named Willie on her mind. Both the Willie and Shelly versions are some of the most delicate lyrics Haggard ever wrote. West sings it with such heart it feels tailor-made for her despite being penned by ole “Okie from Muskogee.”

I know I’m only Shelly’s winter love
She only seems to need me now and then
I know I’m only Shelly’s winter love
But she’s mine alone till springtime comes again

5. “Running Kind,” Kenny Seratt and The Messengers (1973)

Written by Merle Haggard

Even if you didn’t know Haggard wrote “Running Kind” you might be able to pinpoint his voice nevertheless. Arguably the premier outlaw in country music, a sizable portion of his songs concern themselves with that mentality and this one is no different. Kenny Seratt and The Messengers were the first to record “Running Kind” in 1973, singing about becoming restless and needing a change of scenery. Haggard recorded the song a few years later for A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today.

I was born the runnin’ kind
With leavin’ always on my mind
Home was never home to me at any time
Every front door found me hopin’
I would find the back door open
There just had to be an exit
For the runnin’ kind

Within me there’s a prison
Surrounding me alone
As real as any dungeon with its walls of stone
I know runnin’s not the answer
Yeah, but runnin’s been my nature
And a part of me
That keeps me movin’ on

Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

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