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Merle Haggard has so many hits that it’s hard to even imagine he ever ran out of ideas.
But back in the mid-to-late ’70s and early ’80s, he went through a period of frustration in terms of his performance on the charts and the songs he was putting out to country radio.
From 1971 through 1976, Merle saw a huge run of radio success, charting 15 #1 singles out of 17 songs released. But come 1977, the run ended, and Merle went cold for the next four years.
From 1977 all the way through 1980, he did have nine Top Five singles, five of which stopped at #2, so it wasn’t like the guy was having no success. But in early 1979, he decided to take a break from music after a period of time where he struggled to get #1’s on the radio.
(He did have a duet with Clint Eastwood, a soundtrack duet for the movie Bronco Billy, top the charts in 1981, but that doesn’t really count).
On this date in 1981, he was back atop the U.S. Country charts with “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink,” a song he wrote after spending six months holed up on his houseboat on Lake Shasta.
A solo write by Merle, it was released in October 1980 as the second single from his Back To The Barrooms album (after “Misery & Gin”). Prior to releasing this song, his label MCA Nashville, had pressured him to do more up-tempo songs because they felt those types of songs would do better on radio.
While Merle reluctantly obliged with this track, he was gonna let them know he wasn’t necessarily thrilled about being told what to do, saying:
“I didn’t know we had speedometers on records.”
The idea for the song actually came from a friend of Merle’s, who had called him one night to check in and see how he was. Merle invited his friend over to his house, to which he replied:
“No thanks, I just wanted to call and say hello. I think I’ll just stay here and drink.”
Merle immediately wrote the idea down, and before long, was back at #1 with a country music classic, the 26th of his legendary career.