Merle Haggard: 30 Essential Songs

From the defiance of "The Fightin' Side of Me" to the melancholy of "If We Make It Through December"

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"I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" (1980)

Thirty-one albums deep and nearly 15 years after the release of swill-em-back classics like "The Bottle Let Me Down," Haggard went Back to the Barroms in 1980 to remind the emerging Countrypolitan crooners that the genre really belongs in a honky-tonk, not in the hands of a shimmery orchestra. "Ain't no woman gonna change the way I think," Haggard sings is his classic baritone, his syllables elongated by just enough shots of bourbon — ain't no one, actually, going to change the way the Hag thinks or sings, and this was proof. Even though it clocked in at over four minutes and allowed for ample, loose instrumental grooves (thanks in particular to Reggie Young's nimble guitar and Don Markham's wail on the sax), it still went to Number One. Nobody made their own rules like Haggard, and no one was so content to break their own, either. M.M.

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