50 years ago, Merle Haggard Makes Bonnie & Clyde a No.1 Hit 1

Merle Haggard charted his 4th no.1 hit 50 years ago. It was the cinematic tale of the notorious crime couple, Bonnie & Clyde.

The Immortalization of the Crime Duo

Eighty-four years ago this month of May, on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, the notorious crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow came to a grisly end. It was when the pair were ambushed and killed by law enforcement officers from Texas and Louisiana. Three decades later, Bonnie and Clyde, a landmark motion picture, emblematic of the “New Hollywood” style of filmmaking. It would make the infamous couple even more famous and would jumpstart the careers of future screen icons Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

The Song “Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”

In April 1968, as the movie, Bonnie and Clyde were basking in critical acclaim and numerous Oscar nominations. During that time, Merle Haggard was on a musical hot streak. Fifty years ago this week (first week of May), Merle Haggard‘s “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” topped the country chart for two weeks. It was Haggard’s third consecutive Number One single, and fourth overall. The hit was co-written with his then-wife Bonnie Owens. The song chronicled their lives from their first meeting, noting their criminal history, Bonnie Parker’s poetry, and their gruesome shared fate. Noting, of course, that in the end, they had to pay for their misdeeds with their lives.

His Most Regarded Song

With “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the 1949 Flatt & Scruggs bluegrass tune, revitalized by its inclusion in the film’s chase scenes. Other music inspired by the film would soon flood the market both in the U.S. and U.K. British singer Georgie Fame recorded “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.” However, the use of machine-gun sound effects caused the song to be banned in Norway and censored in America and France. Merle Haggard‘s hit single, featured Bonnie Owens on background vocals and a well-known instrumentalist on banjo: Glen Campbell. Campbell was among the acts who later recorded his own version of the tune. Perhaps not coincidentally, Merle Haggard would soon star as a lawman in a low-budget crime drama produced by Dick Clark. The soundtrack of Three featured Haggard’s next Number One single, “Mama Tried.”

Of special note is the familiar B-side of “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde.” Never released as a single by the country icon, “Today I Started Loving You Again” is nevertheless one of Haggard’s most highly regarded and often-recorded songs, with versions by Emmylou Harris, Sammi Smith, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and dozens of others. In his 1999 memoir, Haggard recalled that after recording “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” he received an unexpected phone call from Faye Dunaway telling him how much she enjoyed his song. In the background, Haggard could hear music playing. It was his recording of “Today I Started Loving You Again.”