As the rest of the music world rolled forward with changes around every corner, the genre of country music remained consistent and rooted in the core of its American legends. Today’s album is “Big City” by Merle Haggard, which is rated as the #10 best country album of all time by tasteofcountry.com. I heard some overlap from a previous Haggard album we had listened to, which made sense when I looked back and realized that back in May, his album “Down Every Road”, which I sequenced in 1969, was in fact a career compilation from 1962 to 1994. Some of the best songs from that album are also here on “Big City”.
The album opens with the title track, which is one of two #1 singles from this album. This is the purest and happiest song on the album, and it is easy to see why it was such a big hit. The real-world lyrics, blended with the fiddle and guitar give this song a wonderful nostalgic feel, as it could have been recorded twenty years earlier during the peak of Patsy Cline and Porter Wagoner.
The next song, “My Favorite Memory”, which was also a #1 single, is an interesting find. If you listen to this song, it is nearly a note-for-note replication of “Good Hearted Woman”, originally written by Waylon Jennings and also recorded by Willie Nelson and George Jones among others. It is much slower, performed as a ballad, but the familiarity is unmistakable. I even had to check the songwriting credits, as I’m surprised nobody else recognized this uncanny resemblance.
The rest of the album is packed with more of the same remarkably authentic country sound. I love “Good Old American Guest”. Two songs later we have “This Song Is Mine” where Merle even seemingly refers to the borrowing of phrasing and structure across all genres of music. “I’ve written words in many ways to make them rhyme, And at times I’ve stolen notes that wasn’t mine, Sometimes I changed my style all around to make it new, These are my words and this is my way and it’s for you.” You aren’t the only one, Merle Haggard, if we have learned nothing else on this journey, we learned that every piece of music is in someway influenced and shaped by what came before it. Sometimes the references are more direct and obvious than others, but they are always there.
“Stop The World And Let Me Off” has a great Mexican cantina feel with the trumpets, and the other great song that we also heard previously is “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)”. A highly reflective song that laments the lost innocence of pre-1960s America. Despite the much-needed changes that came with the 1960’s and 1970’s, there are still segments of simplified values of hard work and family that ring true in this melancholy look back.
This is definitely one of my favorite country albums on this list, and Merle Haggard once again stands out as one of the most accomplished and pure icons of country music.