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To Love And Let Go: The Story Of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings”

Merle Haggard + Silver Wings

A country song about the remembrance of love, Merle Haggard’s 1969 track “Silver Wings” off his tenth studio album with his band The Strangers, A Portrait of Merle Haggard, has reached “most enduring and iconic” status. In his interview with Uncut, he shared that he wrote the song on the plane – a 707 from Phoenix, Arizona bound for LA – with his then-wife Bonnie Owens

The inspiration struck when he looked out the window and saw the aircraft’s silver wings, calling it a great premise for a song. And it was indeed. Well, Merle Haggard’s songs never disappoint. 

Meaning Behind the Song

The song first appeared on A Portrait of Merle Haggard released in September 1969 under Capitol. A month later, it was re-released in his first live album with The Strangers titled Okie from Muskogee

Haggard created a simple structure for the track: a chorus repeated three times and broken down by a single verse after the first. For the lyrics, he used the imagery of the “silver wings” as a symbol of the pain of letting someone you love go. As for the sound, he utilized only three-chords and combined it with his signature twangy guitar and pedal steel. And that simplicity lent even more depth to the message, effortlessly managing to bring everyone to tears. 

Let’s break it down.

The country legend set the song with a melancholic opening scene. First, there was the glittering image of the silver wings shining in the sunlight and the roaring sound of the engines. But those same silver wings took his love away, flying and then slowly fading out of his sight. And he was left there standing behind, abandoned. 

But what totally broke everyone’s heart was when he sang of crying, begging for his lover not to leave him. But she locked him out of her mind. And so, he kept on repeating the chorus over and over again – the part we all definitely felt the pain resonate with us. 

And Haggard’s distinctive voice perfectly captured the wistful longing of the man, creating a sense of authenticity that ultimately drove the message of the song home. No wonder it remains to be one of the most beloved tracks by the legend. 

If you’re ready for a painful cry, then go ahead and watch Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” in the video below.

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