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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"Sing Me Back Home" (1967)

In "Hungry Eyes" and "Roots of My Raising," Haggard's narrators use music to revive memories they've been holding since childhood. "Sing Me Back Home" is a song about a prison inmate who does the same for someone else, strumming a tune for a fellow convict who wants to hear his old favorite as he walks to his death. It's a dramatic moment, but Haggard doesn't sing it like one: His dry, dignified voice suggests not a performer on a stage but a hardened stoic replaying one of his life's most harrowing moments. The song is fiction, its narrative recalling the 1965 hit "Green, Green Grass of Home," but basing its details on "a conglomeration of information" that stuck with him from his own days in San Quentin. N.M.

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