On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Merle Haggard – Okie from Muskogee (1969)
We’re back on a plane and heading over to the US, dear reader. No short flight for us today, I’m afraid. We’re heading all the way over to California to the birthplace of Merle Haggard who was a big name in country music circles. Haggard’s early life was not a good one with stints in prison before going straight and launching a country music career. There are worse jobs you can do after spending some time in prison. Anyway, in 1969 he released one of his most popular songs – Okie from Muskogee.
A perplexing title is actually rather simple. Muskogee is a city in Oklahoma and an Okie is someone from Oklahoma apparently. Who knew? In the song, Merle Haggard champions the city and the people that live there. These are the sort of people who are somewhat puzzled by the counterculture movement that was prevalent in the 1960s. Drugs are frowned upon, no one looks like a hippie, they dress well and the college kids are well behaved, not out on anti-war protest marches that’s for sure. Haggard wrote the song in response to the increasingly negative perception of US soldiers stationed in Vietnam. What had begun as a potentially noble conflict had now descended into a nightmare of foreign policy for the US at this time with soldiers once embraced as heroes now being increasingly reviled due to tales of appalling atrocities committed in Vietnam such as the My Lai Massacre in 1968. On the one hand, Haggard’s song sounds like a strong criticism of the counterculture movement but the way it’s delivered gives more credence to it being more mellow than that. The people of Muskogee have their ways and traditions and they’re happy for them to be that way, thank you very much.
I have heard of Merle Haggard but as with pretty much all country music, it’s not an area I am well versed in, not a genre I have immersed myself in beyond dipping my toe in the shallows. Perhaps one of these days I will delve deeper but I have a 1001 Songs Challenge to complete first. Haggard would score dozens of no.1 hits on the country music charts in the US but Okie from Muskogee remains of his most treasured. Sadly, Haggard’s long and illustrious career would end in 2016 at the age of 79 following a severe bout of pneumonia.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)