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