My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘It’s All In The Game’

it's all in the gameMerle Haggard was always guilty of making interesting albums, and this 1984 Epic release, It’s All In The Game, was no exception to the rule.

The album, Haggard’s thirty-ninth studio album, soared to the top of Billboard’s County Albums chart for one week in September, powered by three number 1 singles.

The album opens up with the first single from the album, the playful chart-topper “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room”, a tune co-written with Freddy Powers about a relationship that has been unraveling.

Next up (and the second single) is the Haggard-Powers-Willie Nelson collaboration “A Place To Fall Apart”. The song is not exactly a duet but does feature the voice of Jane Fricke quite prominently. The song is a very nice ballad that soared to #1.

I’ll prob’ly never see you eye to eye again
This letter’s meant to be my last farewell
But you need to under-stand I’m nearly crazy
You need to know my life has gone to hell
Write me back and tell me why it ended
Send a letter that I can show my heart
I’ll be somewhere between I love you and what you’re feeling now
Lookin’ for a place to fall apart

The third song is the answer to a trivia question: Name the only pop song written by a Vice President of the United State. The answer is “Its All In The Game” and the writer was Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President Charles Dawes. Dawes was actually a bank president at the time he composed the melody. The lyrics were added in 1951 a few months after Dawes’ death, so Dawes never knew about the pop sensation that his melody would become a few months later when Tommy Edwards took the song to #18 on the US pop charts. In 1958 Edwards would re-record the song for Mercury records, taking it to #1 on the Billboard pop charts for six weeks and to #1 for a week on the British pop charts.

The song would be recorded many times over the years. Haggard’s former label, MCA issued Haggard’s recording as a single in 1983. The song, released without promotion, reached #54 prompting Epic to have Haggard re-record the song and use it as the title track on this album. Haggard does a nice job with the song, although I still think Tommy Edwards’ 1958 recording is the best version of the song

Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game
All in the wonderful game that we know as love
You have words with him and your future’s looking dim
But these things, your hearts can rise above
Once in a while he won’t call but it’s all in the game
Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet, with a sweet bouquet (with sweet bouquet)
And he’ll kiss your lips and caress your waiting fingertips
And your heart, your heart will go to fly away

The next two songs “Little Hotel Room” (written by Freddy Powers) and “I Never Go Home Anymore” (written by Haggard) are ballads of Haggard’s frequently expressed sense of loss, alienation and loneliness. Both are interesting filler but I don’t think either would have made a good single. Ditto for “All I Want To Do Is Sing My Song” – it’s not bad but is not worthy of being a single. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics for “I Never Go Home Anymore”:

I own a house on the edge of the city
A suburban mansion I’m told
But the power’s all off and the phone lines are dead
And the hallways are lonely and cold

So I spend all my time in hotels and barrooms
Watching the whiskey they pour
Between airports and highways and the nightlife that’s my way
I never go home anymore

“Natural High” is the third #1 single from the album, again featuring Janie Fricke.

I had a discussion with someone at another country music blog about “Thank Heaven For Little Girls”, a song that seemed out of context and to that other person, perhaps a bit creepy. The song dates from a simpler and more innocent time and was one of the signature songs for the great French performer Maurice Chevalier. Written by the famed Broadway theatrical writers Alan J Lerner and Frederick Loewe (of Camelot, Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon and My Fair Lady fame) , “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” was the opening and closing theme for the movie Gigi. While I would not compare Haggard’s version of the song with that of Chevelier (that would be a unfair), he does do a nice job with this quaint and charming song.

Thank heaven for little girls
For little girls get bigger every day!
Thank heaven for little girls
They grow up in the most delightful way!
Those little eyes so helpless and appealing
One day will flash and send you crashin’ through the ceilin’

Thank heaven for little girls
Thank heaven for them all
No matter where, no matter who
For without them, what would little boys do?

>> Next up Haggard covers the hugely successful duet Willie Nelson had with Julio Iglesias on “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”. It’s not really Haggard’s kind of song . Merle does a decent job with the song as a solo but the magic of the duet is missing.

Merle closes the album with “You Nearly Lose Your Mind”, an Ernest Tubb classic that Tubb wrote and recorded in 1948. Merle always excels with the Texas Troubadour’s songs and this time is no exception. This is probably my favorite song on the album.

Well if you love your mama and you treat her right
But she keeps on fussin’ at you every day and night
And she’s triflin’ on ye they’ll do it every time
And when your baby starts to steppin’ Lord you nearly lose your mind
Now if your mama’s mean take a tip from me
Lock her up at home Lord and hang on to the key
‘Cause she won’t triflin’ on ye they’ll do it every time
And when your baby starts to steppin’ Lord you nearly lose your mind
But if your mama’s good I’ll tell you what to do
Give her lots of lovin’ and what she wants to do
She’ll trifle on ye they’ll do it every time
And when your baby starts to steppin’ Lord you nearly lose your mind

I regard this as one of Merle’s strongest Epic albums. He still has Roy Nichols (lead) and Norm Hamlet (steel) as part of his Strangers, along with Don Markham on horns and the great Tiny Moore on fiddle and mandolin. I’d give this a solid A.

2 responses to “Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘It’s All In The Game’

  1. Razor X May 10, 2016 at 8:17 am

    This was a different kind of album for Merle, but I liked it a lot. ” A Place To Fall Apart” is one of my favorites.

  2. Ken May 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Merle once again leaned heavily on down tempo songs for this set but three excellent singles helped to make this a solid package.

    A shuffle song becoming a country hit in 1984 was not very probable. The direction of country music at that time was not leaning toward the traditional side of the genre so for a true country fan like me “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room” was a breath of fresh air. I still recall the day that single arrived at my radio station and I could not believe my ears! Haggard wrote the song on his tour bus en route to Nashville with his frequent collaborator at that time Freddy Powers. Freddy’s current girlfriend singer Sherill Rodgers primarily contributed the concept for the title. Released as the album’s first single it climbed to #1 the same week that the “It’s All In The Game” album did likewise on the album chart.

    “A Place To Fall Apart” sprang from Merle wanting to write a song that would close the door on his recently ended marriage to Leona Williams. The opening line of the song was from a letter that Merle composed as an exercise to spell out his feelings about the failed relationship (That letter as never mailed) Willie Nelson and Freddy Powers shared the writing credit. Janie Fricke’s vocal was totally ad-libbed at Merle’s request. At the overdub session he suggested that she sing what she felt rather than just harmonizing to certain lines. The result was quite compelling.

    The final single from the album “Natural High” was written by Freddy Powers and inspired by another one of his girlfriends who seemed to always possess that quality. Janie Fricke again overdubbed her part as did Lloyd Lindroth who added an esoteric sound to that recording with his harp.

    “You Nearly Lose Your Mind” is my favorite non-single track. It made me wish that Haggard would record an Ernest Tubb tribute album. “I Never Go Home Anymore” is a runner-up and is Haggard at his wistful best.

    The title track was in fact the version that Merle had recorded for MCA about four years earlier. During the spring of 1980 after “The Way I Am” album was released Merle returned to the studio to record nine sides. Mid-summer recording sessions later that year produced all of the songs for his next album. “Back To The Barrooms” was released in October and the sessions from earlier that year were shelved. In the fall of 1983 after Merle had moved to the Epic label MCA resurrected “It’s All In The Game” from their vault and issued it as a single backed with another unreleased side “The New Cocaine Blues.” Though its chart performance was unimpressive climbing to only #54 during a 10 week chart run it gave Epic executives cause to worry about competing with Haggard’s previous MCA recordings. Epic likely remembered MCA battling Haggard’s Capitol sides for airplay a few years earlier so they struck a deal with MCA to purchase “It’s All In The Game” and several other unreleased MCA master recordings. Eight other MCA tracks were later released on Haggard’s 1986 album “Out Among The Stars.” Because Haggard’s style had not significantly changed during that period the tracks did not sound dated.

    By the way this album receives an “A” vote from me too.

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