August 23

“The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” as Merle Haggard’s Top Song

"The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde" as Merle Haggard's Top Song 1
Merle Haggard and The Strangers with their record of “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” | Photo credit:

Two American criminals whose crooked behavior dominated during the Great Depression were Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chesnut Barrow. The real-life duo became much famed for robbery and killing in the 1930s. Their crime saga qualified for the “Public Enemy Era” (1931-1935). But after being on the run for four years, the couple ended in a violent death. The law enforcement authorities had successfully killed the crime couple in an ambush. Following their tragic fate, many historians, storytellers, filmmakers, and artists from various fields became inspired by Bonnie and Clyde’s story. With that said, countless works of arts featuring the legend of Bonnie and Clyde existed. Their story has since been told and re-told in various media – books, films, and music, among others.

The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde Narrated in a Song

More than three decades after Bonnie and Clyde’s death, the late country legend Merle Haggard and his wife Bonnie Owens recounted Bonnie and Clyde’s crime saga in a song. Haggard recorded the song they entitled as “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” in January 1968. The following month, “Ol’ Hag” released the song as the lead single and title track of his album of the same name. It went on to become a top country song giving Haggard and The Strangers their fourth No. 1 on the chart. Haggard enlisted Glen Campbell‘s participation in his recording providing the song’s propulsive banjo.

Haggard and Owens put themselves in the shoes of a historian in narrating the details of the story in their song. The couple had been very attentive to details not to miss any salient part of the story. The outcome appeared to offer a caution to any bandit who wouldn’t submit themselves to the authorities quickly and accordingly. In other words, the Sing Me Back Home” singer warns that this is what happens to outlaws who would act similarly with Bonnie and Clyde. Below is Haggard’s recording of “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde.”

Among the other country artists who covered the song was Tammy Wynette. Her cover was included on her album 1968 D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Listen to her rendition below.

Meanwhile, there are musicians from various genre who interpreted or took lines from the song and adapted them into their music. Celebrated rapper and singers Eminem, Tupac, and Jay-Z were among these artists.

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Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, Clyde Chesnut Barrow, merle haggard, The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde, The Strangers

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