Merle Haggard performs Jan. 29 with his band The Strangers at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. COURTESY PHOTO / MYRIAM SANTOSTop 5 Merle Haggard albums
Merle Haggard, who talked to me for this week's Ticket cover story, has averaged about an album a year since his 1965 debut “Strangers.” More than a few are masterpieces. All of them are worth a listen. Here are my five favorites. Give them a listen before going to see Hag perform Wednesday (Jan. 29) at the Van Wezel.
“Songs I’ll Always Sing” (1976)
Highlighting Hag’s classic Capitol recordings of the 1960s and ‘70s, this double album I bought for about two bucks at a garage sale smartly mixes big singles (“Okie from Muskogee,” “Working Man Blues,” “Swinging Doors”) with equally strong, less popular album tracks (“Silver Wings,” “Honky Tonk Night Time Man,” “Uncle Lem.”)
“Serving 190 Proof” (1979)
Hag has called this his “male menopause” album and, alas, the older I get the more I relate to every song. Among its highlights, “Serving 190 Proof” includes the stirring lament about aging “Footlights” and the more obscure but just as memorable love-sick song “Heaven Was a Drink of Wine.”
“Rainbow Stew: Live at Anaheim Stadium” (1981)
A sentimental favorite that also sounds great, I bought a used copy of this CD a few years ago for $5.99 at the famed Amoeba Music store on Sunset Boulevard while working as the music critic for a publication that covered Orange County, Calif., where this rousing live album was recorded. The set opens with a heartbreaking reading of the drinking song “Misery and Gin,” includes some fun numbers like the title track and then closes with my favorite version of Haggard’s poignant, self-penned prison tale “Sing Me Back Home.”
“Big City” (1981)
Perhaps the first Haggard CD I ever bought, it still makes me smile every time I hear the hit title track about a working man just wanting to get away, the nostalgia gem “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)” and less popular cuts like the cocksure kiss-off “I Think I’m Gonna Live Forever.”
“If I Could Only Fly” (2000)
The first Haggard CD I actually bought around the time of its original release, it contains a killer opening couplet - “Watching while some old friends do a line / Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind” - from the Haggard penned “Wishing All These Old Things Were New.” The album remain compelling throughout but perhaps never more gripping than on the title track, a gorgeously pensive song Haggard didn’t write but completely owns.
Top 5: Merle Haggard albums
/ Wednesday, January 22, 2014