Say what you want about Merle Haggard, but the man was a profound storyteller with his lyrics.
In 1968, the legendary country music artist released his sixth studio album The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde. The albums title track of the same name was released as a single and reached number one on the country charts.
“The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” was Haggard’s fourth number one single of his career and it managed to stay at the very top of the country charts for 14 straight weeks.
Though the song had much commercial success, the tune’s B-side “I Started Loving You Again” is the one that has become more recognizable and been covered the most. David Cantwell’s book Merle Haggard: The Running Kind suggests that the song was covered more than sixty times just between 1968 and 1975.
The album itself did well with fans and critics alike. The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde reached as high as number six on the country album charts thanks to its impressive set list and intrigue surrounding the real life story of Bonnie and Clyde that played out thirty years before.
The title track tells the iconic story of the pair of lovebird criminals, and may I add that it does so very quickly. Haggard manages to fit a lot of story into a short, two minute window of a song.
Though it might feel a bit rushed, the lyrics still seem to cover Bonnie and Clyde’s tumultuous journey pretty thoroughly.
Without a true chorus, the song features various verses that walk you through the life and legacy of the infamous gangster duo:
“Bonnie was a waitress in this small café
Clyde Barrow was the rounder that took her away
They both robbed and killed until both of them died
So goes the Legend of Bonnie and Clyde
The poems that she wrote of the life that they led
Told of the lawmen left dying or dead
Some say that Clyde made her life a shame
But the legend made Bonnie the head of the game…”
The song continues on, ultimately chronicling their 1934 death at the hands of police officers who pumped a whopping 112 bullets into their car from an ambush position in Louisiana:
“They drove back from town on one bright summer day
When a man they befriended stepped out in the way
With no thought of dyin’, they pulled to the side
But death lay there waiting for Bonnie and Clyde
Two years of runnin’ was ended that day
For robbin’ and killin’ they both had to pay
But we’ll always remember how they lived and died
So goes the Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”
Yeah, like Merle said, that about sums up the legend of Bonnie and Clyde…”
Now that you’ve got the gist of the story, all that’s left to do is crank up the volume and toe tap your way through this Haggard classic: