October 4

Merle Haggard’s Biggest Hit in 1966, “The Bottle Let Me Down”

When Merle Haggard and The Strangers recorded their debut album Swinging Doors in 1966, Haggard wasn’t happy with the initial results. He even had a hard time figuring out what went wrong and how to make them right. Then things suddenly started to work all in his favor. The album spawned two Top 5 hits – the title track and “The Bottle Let Me Down.” The latter gave Haggard and The Strangers their highest-charting single as it peaked at No. 3 on the country charts in 1966. That’s primarily due to the singer’s persistence in perfecting his recording.

After the single “Swinging Doors” cracked No. 5, The Hag, who scored 38 No. 1 hits, became more inspired to work harder on his next single. Hence, he focused on the sharper edges to ensure an even more reasonable result. And he succeeded with it. Given the commercial success of the two singles, the album became also known as the Swinging Doors and The Bottle Let Me Down. To top it all, Haggard and The Strangers earned their first No. 1 album with Swinging Doors.

Haggard’s Biggest Hit in 1966

Apparently, “The Bottle Let Me Down” is among Haggard’s self-penned drinking tunes. The poignant ballad narrates the lamentations of the narrator who was left by his lover. He said that despite drinking every night and leaving the bar room painless, that night was a bit different. No matter how drunk he was, the alcohol’s spirit remained defeated by his former lover’s memories. Furthermore, what he considered as his “one true friend” failed him. As it made sense to him that the pain is real, he was torn even more.

Tonight the bottle let me down
And let your memory come around
The one true friend I thought I’d found
Tonight the bottle let me down

A follow-up single to his first Top 5 hit, “The Bottle Let Me Down” was released in August 2006. Here’s one interesting fact about how it was recorded. Bonnie Owens, who was working with Haggard that time suggested on incorporating a Buck Owens style into the song – and it worked amazingly! In the liner notes to Haggard box set Down Every Road, Owens told Daniel Cooper,

“The only person that either of us knew that had any success at all—that we knew personally—was Buck Owens. And so…we had to kind of pattern most everything from what Buck would talk to us about… Certain things, like…’The Bottle Let Me Down.’ ‘Tonight the bottle’—and he says ‘let me down.’ We were accenting what he’s saying by himself… The only reason for harmony is to accent… Buck always taught me that.” 

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Bonnie Owens, merle haggard, The Bottle Let Me Down, The Strangers

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