If anyone’s to list songs from Merle Haggard’s discography that defined his legendary career, then “The Fightin’ Side of Me” would’ve made it. He wrote the song with the American band The Strangers and was released as the first single and title track of the same-titled album.
This wasn’t supposed to be Haggard’s next release after “Okie From Muskogee,” as he was trying to take a different direction from the image he had established then with the “Okie.” He wanted to tell a progressive story with the song “Irma Jackson.” But his label didn’t want to complicate things – and for the first time (and only time) in the singer’s career, Ken Nelson got involved in his music. According to Haggard, Nelson, Capitol’s country music division head then, told him, “Merle, I don’t believe the world is ready for this yet.”
And so, he went on to record “The Fightin’ Side of Me” instead.
Meaning Behind the Song
In his decades-long career, Merle Haggard’s number-one hit song count reached 38. And one of those was this strongly patriotic anthem.
The song expressed Haggard’s deep love for his country and sense of pride in a person’s unwavering allegiance to America, emphasizing the importance of standing up for its values and principles. It also embodied a rugged individualism and a commitment to defending American heritage against perceived threats from within and outside the country.
Overall, it’s a powerful anthem for patriotism with a rousing melody and straightforward lyrics that are unabashed and apologetic about what it stands for. That resonated with people, especially those who share the same beliefs and perspectives on what it means to be an American.
And while the song’s subject matter may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s still Haggard. As Rolling Stone described, he is infectious enough that even his target (aka the squirrely guy) might find himself singing along with him.
If you’re feeling extra patriotic today, this track is a good song to put on and listen to. Go ahead and catch Merle Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me” below.