It’s been almost 8 years since the legendary Merle Haggard passed away, but the Hag is still widely regarded (and rightfully so) as one of the greatest country singers and songwriters of all time.
For my money, it doesn’t get any better than songs like “Misery & Gin,” “If We Make It Through December” and “Swinging Doors.” And “Hungry Eyes” may be one of the greatest country songs ever written, and I’ll argue that one all damn day.
But somewhere along the line (you can probably guess when I’m talking about) country music lost its way.
It got away from those heartbreak melodies of guys like Merle, and instead became all about cruising down a dirt road in your pickup truck with the boys.
Yeah, of course I’m talking about the dark days of the bro-country era.
When Haggard passed away in 2016, we were right in the middle of the Florida Georgia Line craze, where pretty much every song was some overproduced pop track about getting drunk on a tailgate around a bonfire. And needless to say, the Hag was none too pleased with it.
During an interview in 2015, less than seven months before his death, Merle gave his thoughts on the bro-country sound that was dominating country music:
“I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kids stuff.”
I mean, it’s hard to argue with that. There’s not really much substance to songs about rolling your windows down and cruising, or getting that “real good feel good stuff” under the seat of your big black jacked up truck.
Not to call anyone out or anything…
But Merle also saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Remember, 2015 is when Chris Stapleton burst onto the scene with his performance alongside Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards and almost single handedly turned the tide in country music.
And Haggard knew that bro-country wouldn’t stand the test of time:
“It’s hot right now, but I’ll tell you what, it’s cooling off.”
He was right.
Of course there are still the occasional bro-country songs, and there are artists who still foolishly try to make it their entire persona. (I saw a quote from a new artist just the other day bragging about being bro-country. How embarrassing).
“Just because country music is getting better doesn’t mean mine’s going to” – Dylan Marlowe, apparently pic.twitter.com/pEIY3Lg3kA