The “Big City” Project

Not everybody knows, but Merle Haggard rarely got enthused about any of his album projects. He always claimed that he wasn’t really trying very hard to turn out a good record. However, the “Big City” project was different for some reason. Maybe because of his brand new association with Epic Records, after many years at Capitol. “Big City” would be the debut album for his new label. Perhaps he was trying to make a good impression. But, whatever the reason may be, Merle Haggard always spoke very highly of the “Big City” album project.  The record took about two years to write and refine. Oddly enough, the title track was one of the last songs added to it.

Merle Haggard and Dean Holloway

Merle Haggard’s longtime friend Dean Holloway accompanied him to Britannia Studios in West Hollywood. It was for the several sessions that would make up the “Big City” album. Holloway became totally disgusted with the Los Angeles area. He complaining to Haggard about the “dirty sidewalks of the big city.” That’s all it took to pique Merle’s creative juices. He took note of that line, and off he went writing what would turn out to be the title track for the album. Merle Haggard finished “Big City” in just twenty minutes.

Merle Haggard believed that anybody could have sung “Big City” and had a hit with it because the song proclaimed what people wanted to hear: Things they believed in their hearts and were disgusted having to put up with, but skittish about publicly stating it themselves. The song sailed to No.1 on Billboard’s country singles chart on April 10, 1982. The following year, the “Big City” album was certified gold becoming Merle’s first gold album in nine years.

The Follow Up

Haggard followed “Big City” with another track from the album called “Are The Good Times Really Over,” yet another commentary on the poor state of the American economy (a frequently-used topic in his songs). Peaking at No. 2, its melody was similar to “My Favorite Memory.” The “Big City” album’s first single and Merle’s first of twelve No. 1 hits for the Epic label. With the similarity in melodies, it’s not surprising that both “Are The Good Times Really Over” and “My Favorite Memory” were written the same day.

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