Country Music Legend Merle Haggard Dead at 79

Nick Kangadis | April 6, 2016
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Country music legend Merle Haggard has died. He passed on birthday Wednesday morning at 79 years young.

According to WSMV in Nashville, "Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. He was best known for his 1969 hit Okie From Muskogee, along with dozens of other No. 1 hits."

Haggard was lauded as music icon, and he worked with names like George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Gretchen Wilson.

In memory of the legendary Merle Haggard, here is a top five list of some of his best songs with explanations by Haggard himself and others:

 

5. Sing Me Back Home (1968)

KSLI in Abilene, Texas explains in 2015:

“Sing Me Back Home” is a song that was actually written while Merle Haggard was waiting to get out of San Quintin Prison. He and his cellmate shared one thing in common. Their love for freedom and how often the two had escaped from prison.

Merle’s cell mate had been sentenced to life without parole. It was when Haggard was told about a secret break that was about to happen that Merle thought twice about breaking out again.

As the story goes, the escapees were caught and returned to prison. Haggard’s cellmate was given the gas chamber for his escape.  It’s when his cellmate was on his final walk to the death chamber that Merle first sang the song “Sing Me Back Home” for the first time.

 

 

 

4. Pancho and Lefty with Willie Nelson (1983)

The original writer of "Pancho and Lefty," Townes Van Zandt, told American Songwriter in 2012:

The only thing I remember thinking about while I was writing it was consciously thinking that this was not about Pancho Villa.

Also a friend of mine who is an artist pointed out one time that there’s nothing in that song that says Pancho and Lefty ever knew each other. I had never thought of that.

 

3. Are the Good Times Really Over (1981)

Country singer Jack Ingram told The Boot in 2009:

I was playing in this bar that had a jukebox filled with great Merle Haggard songs, so I had to learn to play them. I haven’t played it in 10 years, so when they called me to sing a song I chose to do this one. While I was relearning it, the thing that struck me about that song is how timely it is now. Here we are 28 years later, and the same things are going on. It’s almost comforting to know that this is what we do — we go through the same problems over and over and we try to learn a little better each time.

 

 

2. Fightin' Side of Me (1969)

According to Rolling Stone in 2014:

In a 2001 interview, the musician singles out this moment as the one time Ken Nelson, head of the country music division of Capitol at the time, "interfered" with his music. "He came out and said, 'Merle, I don't believe the world is ready for this yet,'" Haggard recalls, as printed in the 2013 book Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, by David Cantwell. Over the years, the singer has always been more than willing to express disappointment over the controversy: "People are narrow-minded," he once told the Wall Street Journal. "Down South, they might have called me a nigger lover. I guess the world isn’t ready for that song yet."

 

1. Okie from Muskogee (1969)

From an interview with After The Boot in 2010:

When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything.

During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause — we don’t even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, b—-ing about it. There’s something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys.

We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free.

I wrote the song to support those soldiers.

 

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