Merle Haggard has one of, if not the, best voices that has ever existed in all of country music.
He was a pioneer in the genre, and released plenty of classics throughout his legendary career that we all still know and love today.
On this date in 1970, he was topping the charts with his hit “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” which proved to be a pretty political take during the Vietnam War years of the early ’70s.
A solo write by Merle, it was released in 1970 as the lead single and title track from his album of the same name and became one of his signature songs, eventually peaking at #1 on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Songs less than two months later.
At the time of its release, it was controversial for the fact that (most) country artists had remained pretty apolitical in terms of the content of their songs during the war.
When Merle released “Okie From Muskogee” (which went #1 the year prior in 1969), it was the first of its kind from such a massive country star, especially considering the populist take and patriotic nature when lots of artists had completely opposite takes and feelings about the war.
Merle’s label really wanted to follow the success of “Okie” with another patriotic song, and even though Merle wanted “Irma Jackson” as his next single, he ultimately conceded to the labels wishes.
It was an extremely stark contrast to a lot of the rock songs and anti-war sentiments coming from bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival at the time with lyrics like this:
About the way they have to live here in this country
Harpin’ on the wars we fight
An’ gripin’ ’bout the way things oughta be
An’ I don’t mind ’em switchin’ sides
An’ standin’ up for things they believe in
When they’re runnin’ down our country, man
They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me”
As time went on, Merle distanced himself from politics and when he commented publicly on such matters, he would play it very coy and never get too into his views on most topics. People still aruge to this day whether or not “Okie” is satire or not.
But setting the political nature of the lyrics aside in the context of the early ’70s, it resonated with fans for many other reasons through the decades, and of course, is one of his timeless hits: