My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’

51f3QpNJP2L._SS280The early 1980s were a prolific time for Merle Haggard. The beginning of the new decade saw him releasing two new albums for MCA and then fulfilling his contract for the label with a live album and a Gospel collection before signing with Epic in 1981. Then over the next two years he released two regular solo albums, a Christmas album and duet albums with both George Jones and Willie Nelson. 1983’s That’s the Way Love Goes was his third (excluding the Christmas collection) solo album for Epic and his sixth album overall for the label.

Hag co-produced the album with Ray Baker. Never one to follow trends, Haggard had avoided the era’s propensity towards overproduction. That’s the Way Love Goes is a collection of ten laid-back ballads, the type of album that would not gain any traction at radio today, if it even managed to get made at all. It wasn’t exactly in sync with the commercial tastes of its time, either; the production is tastefully understated throughout. It did however, perform quite well commercially, spawning three hit singles, two of which were chart-toppers. The album also marked the beginning a mellowing of Merle’s sound and he began experimenting with adding horns and saxophones to the mix, something that would characterize his music for the remainder of the decade.

Commercially Haggard was riding high, but he was entering an era that would be very dark for him personally, involving both marital and substance abuse problems. His rocky marriage to Leona Williams finally ended that year, and it seems to have been foreshadowed in a few of the album’s songs, particularly the bleak and introspective lead single “What Am I Gonna Do (With the Rest of My Life)”, a self-penned number that landed at #3. He also penned “Someday When Things Are Good” with his soon-to-be ex-wife Leona. The #1 hit finds him contemplating walking out on his marriage, but unable to find the right time to do it.

Sandwiched in between these two hits is a remake of “That’s the Way Love Goes”, a Lefty Frizzell and Sanger D. Shafer composition that had been a #1hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1973. Hag also took the tune to the top of the charts and it remains one of my favorites of his recordings from this era.

There are no uptempo songs on this album and for that reason some may find it a bit difficult to listen to all the way through. However, they are all well done and for the most part they have aged well with the possible exception of Red Lane’s “Carryin’ Fire”, which has a dated-sounding keyboard intro. “The Last Boat of the Day”, also penned by Lane with Hank Cochran has a subtle Calypso feel to it and is a bit of an artistic stretch for Merle. Beach songs were not yet a staple of mainstream country and this one stands head and shoulders over almost ever contemporary example I can think of.

Merle had a hand in writing all of the remaining songs on the album. I particularly liked “(I’m Gonna Paint Me) A Bed of Roses”, which finds him trying to make the best of things after a break-up. It has a radio-friendly feel and might have been a hit, but it was highly unusual to release more than three singles from an album in those days. “Don’t Seem Like We’ve Been Together All Our Lives” is about a long-term relationship that is still going well — decidedly at odds with Merle’s real-life situation at the time. “If You Hated Me” is possibly semi-autobiographical, a song in which he questions how bad things would have been if his wife had hated him, considering how badly she treated him when she supposedly loved him. I like this one a lot. Red Lane and Dean Holloway were the co-writers. The album closer “I Think I’ll Stay” is a bluesy number that close with an extended jam session.

Overall, That’s the Way Love Goes is very good, but it does not quite rise to the level of Big City and Going Where the Lonely Go. It is not great but it is very good and worth investigating.

Grade: B+

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2 responses to “Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’

  1. Paul W Dennis May 6, 2016 at 6:53 am

    This was not one of my favorite Haggard albums, although it is a very good album, and I liked the use of winds and horns. This album would have improved greatly with the addition of an up-tempo song or two.

    Having heard Johnny Rodriguez’s marvelous take on the title song a decade earlier, I never really warmed up to Haggard’s rendition of “That’ s The Way Love Goes” and I was surprised that it rose to #1. Haggard’s version is more faithful to Lefty Frizzell’s original but I simply did not like the heavy handed arrangement as well as I liked Lefty’s arrangement, one of the few times ever that simply did not care for a Merle Haggard recording. I should note that Merle’s vocal on the song is fine.

  2. Ken May 6, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    No question that this album primarily appeals to die-hard Haggard fans. Merle delivered excellent sounding vocals as evidenced by the three hit singles that were released. Despite it’s tempo shortcomings it still climbed to #8 on the country album chart. The album remained on that survey for a total of 50 weeks.

    Merle claims to have recorded the title track several times prior to releasing that hit version. His first attempt was at an October 23, 1973 session for Capitol Records in Hollywood. A few months earlier both Haggard and Johnny Rodriguez first heard “That’s The Way Love Goes” at a late night motel room guitar pull in Nashville. It was performed by Lefty Frizzell who had just co-written the song with Whitey Shafer. Both Merle and Johnny were very impressed with the song. Rodriguez had a recording session scheduled the next day and cut his version first. Lefty’s recording was made just a few days later. Both recordings were first released as album tracks. Johnny’s version was issued as a Mercury single late that year while Lefty’s ABC Records recording was issued as the flip side to “I Never Go Around Mirrors.” Haggard’s rendition remained locked in the Capitol vault until unearthed for his second Bear Family box set in 2007. His vocal clearly emulates Lefty’s style especially during the spoken parts.

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