Adapting to Someone Else’s Work

Songwriters can’t work without inspiration. The same goes with Merle Haggard. He faced one of the greatest challenges of his career making the song “Movin’ On.” The song wasn’t made to be a Merle Haggard hit, it was made to be a theme song for the TV series “Movin’ On.” For that very reason, it forced Merle to adapt his writing to someone else’s work.

Merle Haggard explained in an interview:

“There was quite a bit of pressure because they paid me half the money up front, and the other half would come if I was able to write the song. I told them ‘I don’t know if I can do it or not, I’m not that type of writer.’ Anyway, I went down to NBC’s Burbank studios with veteran character actor Claude Akins (one of the show’s stars) to watch the screening of the pilot episode. As I sat there watching it, I kept thinking ‘this title “Movin’ On” has already been written, and was a big hit’. I thought ‘how in the heck am I gonna write something about movin’ on?’ So I just tried to re-create what I saw on the screen, and paid tribute to “Will” and “Sonny,” the characters of the series, as best I could.”

It was September 12, 1974, when Merle Haggard’s theme first appeared on the network television. Claude Akins co-starred with Frank Converse as a pair of truck drivers looking for adventure all across the country. President Gerald Ford counted himself among the show’s fans. However, Merle Haggard fared much better on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart than the program did in the Nielsen ratings. “Movin’ On” failed to crack the Top 25 among weekly network offerings, and the show made its last appearance on September 14, 1976.

Success for The Hag

Merle Haggard’s song, “Movin’ On,” on the other hand, debuted May 24, 1975, and cruised into the No. 1 position in a scant eight weeks, a comparatively short amount of time for a record to peak. Merle was actually no stranger as a contributor to visual productions. “Movin’ On” was his fourth such project. In 1968 he had composed a couple of songs specifically for the movie “Killers Three.” Merle even appeared in that movie, playing a policeman. Then two years later, Haggard provided a song called “Turn Me Around” to the soundtrack of the John Wayne picture “Chisum.”