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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"Workin' Man Blues" (1969)

Ushered in with bits of funky guitar, 1969's "Workin' Man Blues" became an anthem for the bluesy, blue-collar Bakersfield Sound that Haggard would come to personify. And those quirky intro licks would emerge as downright iconic too, making it increasingly safe for traditional country crooners to play as much in rock & roll waters as they damn well pleased. When the track was released, Haggard was having anything but the blues — he'd been riding high after seven Number One songs, but he refused to forget the rough and tumble roots that birthed him, singing the anthem of a man with nine children, struggling to get by. Years later, Bob Dylan would write his own riff on the song, "Workingman Blues #2," after touring with Haggard — godlike figures of music, still pondering the common man. M.M.

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