Merle Haggard: A brief provocation
Driving out to the garden this afternoon, dodging storms and squishing Japanese beetles (actually, I dump ’em in water and feed ’em to the chickens, which is, at least, sport…or recycling), I was reminded of a conceit which emerged when Andy McLenon and I were writing about Merle Haggard some years back.
And it is this: Merle Haggard is the greatest living American songwriter.
Discuss. Argue. Have fun.
But consider this: He is and always has been more than “Okie From Muskogee,” he’s had 90 top-40 country hits (most of which he wrote), and, well, here are some of those hits (I shan’t tarry long enough to make sure he wrote all of ’em): “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” “Swinging Doors,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Branded Man,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Half Bad),” “If We Make It Through December,” “If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink,” “What Am I Gonna Do (With The Rest Of My Life),” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “Kern River,” and those are just the ones in my old Billboard chart book (thanks, Bill).
Now, I realize I’m swinging at some fences with this little provocation, and that’s fine. I said he’s the greatest living American songwriter. Not the most successful, but the greatest, by which I mean a kind of balance between art and commerce, and so Townes Van Zandt (to pick a name) doesn’t count, and Peter’s free to argue for Jimmy Webb except that on my desert island we listen to Merle because he touches me, and Jimmy Webb mostly doesn’t. And Dolly Parton, that’d be another one, and I think she’s under-rated as a songwriter because she’s been clever enough to hide it behind her wigs and her brassieres. And, of course, Willie Nelson, there’s another one, but Willie…oh, have at it, y’all.
Just a passing Saturday afternoon thought.
Hopefully most of y’all are back in the Northwest at the festival anyhow.