The Playlist Special: Top Artists Pick Their Personal Top 10

Merle Haggard: Songs I Wish I'd Written

Merle Haggard was two years old when he first heard country great Stuart Hamblen's show blaring from his parents' AM radio in Bakersfield, California. Haggard, 74, went on to have 40 Number One country hits and became a pioneer of the outlaw country movement. What makes a great song? "It's got to make a blue flame go behind my left ear and chill bumps run all over my body. And immediately you say, 'Why didn't I think of that? I could have written that, but I didn't think of it.'"



Listen: Merle Haggard's 'Top Songs I Wish I'd Written'

  • 1.
    "Ring Of Fire" | Johnny Cash, 1963

    It may be the hottest record I've ever heard. I remember hearing this on four different stations at the same time. Johnny Cash told me he dreamed those Spanish horns. It woke him up and he went in and did it. I've had some great dreams, but I never can remember the good ones. They get away before noon.

  • 2.
    "Devil Woman" | Marty Robbins, 1962

    I was hanging out with Wynn Stewart's band in Vegas, and they handed me a guitar. I played this, and their mouths fell open. It led to my first big job, playing bass in his band.

  • 3.
    "A Word or Two To Mary" | Lefty Frizzell, 1967

    It's a ballad about a soldier in a battle, taking a message from his dying buddy to give to his wife. It's a sad song, but really great.

  • 4.
    "Sunday Morning Coming Down" | Kris Kristofferson, 1970

    Kris is a genius. I was in the audience when Johnny Cash sang it on TV. They didn't want him to sing the line "Wishin', Lord, that I was stoned," but he did, and it brought the house down.

  • 5.
    "Give It Away" | George Strait, 2006

    Jamey Johnson wrote this. It's about two people breaking up. He says, "What are we gonna do with the chairs and table?" She says, "Fuck it! Give it away." Jamey is the first to come along in a long spell with the ability to write that way.

  • 6.
    "Always On My Mind" | Willie Nelson, 1978

    Everybody can identify with this song, written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson, at some place in their life, and Willie had the nerve to record it on the tail end of Elvis' success with it. I said, "You're crazy!" Crazy as a fox, it turned out – his version was a Number One hit.

  • 7.
    ""Settin' The Woods On Fire"" | Hank Williams, 1952

    Hank was on the road, and they stopped at this Mexican joint. There wasn't a rest stop for miles, so Hank went in the woods and took a shit. He said, "I'm setting the fucking woods on fire! That was the hottest goddamn chili I've ever seen!" Before they'd driven another few miles, Hank had a song.

  • 8.
    "Waiting For A Train" | Jimmie Rodgers, 1929

    Jimmie had tuberculosis most of his career, and still left us this great legacy.

  • 9.
    "Harper Valley P.T.A." | Jeannie C. Riley, 1968

    Tom T. Hall wrote this one, and it's not something that you want to sing at church. It's about a mother wearing her skirt a bit too high, and the people at the PTA gossip about her. Tom's got it all rhymed into perfection.

  • 10.
    "When No Flowers Grow" | Tommy Collins, 1968

    It's about a woman who accidentally kills her child by backing over him. She goes crazy, picking flowers in the snow, when no flowers grow. It's an expert piece of work.