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10 Classic Country Albums Turning 50 This Year

From Johnny Cash's 'At Folsom Prison' to Dolly Parton's 'Just Because I'm a Woman'

Merle Haggard, 'Mama Tried'
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Merle Haggard, 'Mama Tried'

When it made its chart debut in the fall of 1968, Mama Tried (Capitol) became Haggard's third album of year. But where Sing Me Back Home and The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde were strong, distinctive efforts with unforgettable hit singles and other strong cuts forced to share space with a couple of stray forgettable originals, Mama Tried was Merle's first masterpiece. The subtle concept album, which works an acoustic-electric blend that would get tagged country-rock if it were by almost anyone but Merle Haggard, explores a prison theme. Some of the prisons are literal: On the classic title track Hag expresses guilt for letting his mother down so badly while also beaming and boasting that he couldn't be corralled by anyone – not even his mom. More often, though, the prisons here are in his head. The closing version of "Too Many Bridges to Cross Over" finds Merle sneer-smiling a Dallas Frazier line that reads like a thesis statement for the rest of his career: "Like an eagle, I'm a prisoner of the wind."