Through splendid Merle Haggard songs, the Okie From Muskogee turned out to be one of the most influential artists in country music. His standard country sound became the foundation for songs that would ultimately grow into country classics and American Songbook standards.
Five years after being released from San Quentin State Prison, Haggard was able to launch a successful country music career in the middle of the 1960s. And throughout his decades making music, he topped Billboard’s country singles chart a whopping 38 times and won so many awards that we’ve actually lost count.
So, with that in mind, we’ve gathered some of Merle Haggard‘s greatest hits – from the rebellious to the romantic ones that will collectively reflect the greatness of his decade-long career.
1. Mama Tried
Written entirely by Haggard, the song is somewhat autobiographical. He may not have been sentenced to a life-without-parole sentence; he definitely caused his widowed mom, Flossie, some grief and sorrow with his defiant ways when he was younger.
“Mama Tried” became a major hit and later went on to be considered as one of Haggard’s signature songs.
2. Okie From Muskogee
Haggard said he was inspired to write this iconic tune after witnessing young people protesting against the Vietnam War, frustrated from the lack of respect for those fighting overseas. He has said it’s his salute to the troops. He actually ended most of his concerts with this song, “Okie From Muskogee.”
3. Hungry Eyes
This 1969 hit is another song inspired by Haggard’s mother, who kept their family together after his father died when he was just a kid.
“Hungry Eyes” is a tip of the hat to faithful mothers who are doing their best in raising the family with little to no money at all, even when that means going without things they want.
4. Sing Me Back Home
Released as the first single to his 1967 album of the same name, “Sing Me Back Home” was actually inspired by real-life events – Haggard’s relationship with his two fellow inmates. The song finds the country legend playing the role of a guitar-playing inmate who plays one final song to his fellow inmate who would soon face execution.
5. The Fightin’ Side of Me
After the success of “Okie From Muskogee,” Haggard followed it up with “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” which immediately broke in popularity and remained on the top spot of the country chart for three weeks. Haggard wrote the track himself, making it clear how he felt about America’s politics at the time.
6. Big City
Merle Haggard co-wrote this song with his lifelong friend and tour bus driver Dean Holloway. Haggard wrote the song from Holloway’s remarks, who said he’s “tired of this dirty old city” and would love to move “somewhere in the middle of damn Montana,” if only he has the chance.
7. Branded Man
This is another autobiographical hit for the country legend as it sings about a young man who spent time in prison for burglary. Though he’s been trying to change his ways, he fears the outside world will no longer be able to accept him after being paroled.
8. I’m A Lonesome Fugitive
Though Haggard didn’t write the song, no one knew it better than he did – it’s actually something he knew first-hand. It sings about a man’s emotional scar after spending time behind bars.
9. Misery and Gin
Perhaps there’s no song in Haggard’s catalog that evokes grief and sorrow as much as this powerful track. It tells the story of a man who ends up at the bar trying to drink away memories – and Haggard made this song all his own.
10. Workin’ Man Blues
Haggard honors the overworked and poorly paid American blue-collar worker, which is a core group of his loyal following. Featuring his signature Bakersfield Sound, Haggard finds himself as one of those workers expressing pride in values like hard work and sacrifice.
11. Kern River
Though this may not be his biggest hit, Haggard delivered a chilling performance on this one that you can never ignore. The song actually grimly narrates the story of the singer’s girlfriend drowning in the Kern River, California.
12. If We Make It Through December
Originally released as the lead single off his holiday album called Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present, the tender ballad plucked the heartstrings of many country fans as it tells the story of a man who couldn’t provide a bountiful Christmas for his family.
13. Always Wanting You
This country classic is actually Haggard’s confession of love to an artist he had become infatuated with while on tour – and that’s none other than Dolly Parton.
14. It’s All In The Movies
Perhaps one of the more undervalued gems in Merle Haggard’s catalog, this song showcases a brilliantly delightful performance – most especially the terrific sax work by Strangers member Don Markham.
15. The Bottle Let Me Down
Released in the early stages of Haggard’s career, the drinking song – about a man who could no longer find comfort from binge drinking – gave everyone a glimpse of the path Haggard is about to take.
Here Are Some More Unforgettable Merle Haggard Songs
While he may no longer be with us, the legacy Merle Haggard left behind lives on inscribed thanks to his impressive musical career. Here are some more of his songs we will never forget.
So, which among these Merle Haggard Songs is your favorite?