My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard in the 1980s and 1990s

merle-haggard-2Our May Spotlight Artist will be Merle Haggard in the 1980s and 1990s. Not only is this the period in which most of our readership first started following country music, but also the reality is that Haggard’s career is too enormous to cover in one or two spotlight months.

Going into the year 1980, Merle was already forty-two years old and seemingly still in the middle of an extended hot streak dating back to 1966. Through 1979 Haggard had charted sixty songs on the Billboard country charts with thirty-one songs reaching #1 on one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts. Moreover, he may have been the biggest single factor in triggering western swing and Jimmie Rodgers revivals.

Haggard would remain hot through 1985 with another fourteen #1 records. Haggard’s last single of the 1970’s -“My Own Kind of Hat”- reached #4. His first single of the 1980s, “The Way I Am” got to #1 on Cashbox and Record World and #2 on Billboard.

After 1985 Haggard’s career on the singles charts would cool down considerably with only one more #1 record and only a few more top ten singles.

Merle’s last solo chart hit would occur in 1990, by which time he was fifty-two years old, a rather advanced age for any country artist to be experiencing chart success. Although many fans believe that Merle’s tenure on Curb Records killed his chart career, my belief is that the “New Traditionalist” movement, which started in 1986 and really flowered in 1989 with Clint Black, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, ultimately killed off the chart success of the country music veterans. Moreover, because of the proliferation of music videos, the industry sought pretty girls and handsome hunks as its standard bearers. The relatively short and grizzled Haggard did not meet up to either standard.

Although Merle largely disappeared from country radio after 1990, he continued to have successful album releases. During the 1980s Haggard released about an album per year of new material (eleven solo albums during the decade) – these albums continued to chart well and were full of good and great songs and performances. There also were a bunch of duet albums with the likes of George Jones and Willie Nelson and a gospel album and some compilations.

Curb only released three albums of new material on Haggard during the 1990s, but these too were really good albums.

We will be covering the best of Merle’s albums of the 1980s and 1990s this month. I really enjoyed all of these albums as they came out and I am sure, that as you run through them, you will find many treasures along the way.

2 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard in the 1980s and 1990s

  1. Ken May 2, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Haggard’s admitted mid-life crisis began during the latter half of the 1970’s around the time of his 40th birthday and became an unsettling force in his personal life and career. It extended through the next decade and was evident in his multiple unsuccessful marriages and the drug & alcohol abuse that too frequently distorted his musical focus. A Haggard concert during that era could be memorable for very good or sometimes very bad reasons. Somehow despite those distractions he still delivered some musical masterpieces albeit not as consistently as he did during his earlier tenure with Capitol Records. By the end of the 1980’s his unfocused musical judgement too often contributed to inconsistent chart success just as much as the changing winds of the country music industry and his personal disagreements with record labels. With his recent passing it will be interesting to reexamine Merle’s albums from this challenging period of his career.

    • Razor X May 2, 2016 at 11:57 am

      After Merle passed away I listened to a few of his Epic albums and I found myself enjoying them a lot more than I had remembered. Maybe with a little more maturity I can appreciate them better or maybe they sound good now because most of the new mainstream music is so horrible. I agree that his earlier stuff on Capitol was better but he still released some pretty solid stuff in the 80s and 90s.

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