Merle Haggard burst onto the national country scene in 1965 with the Top Ten hit "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers)." Over the next five years, Haggard's music slowly evolved, shifting its focus from heartbreak songs and barroom weepers to social issues and his own troubled spirit. BEST OF THE EARLY YEARS gathers ten tracks from this period, showing how quickly Haggard mastered each of these genres.
As a singer, Haggard has always had the ability to convey a deep sadness, and he uses this talent to great effect in his tales of jilted lovers "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," and "Someone Told My Story." That same sadness shines through in his songs about wanderers ("Sidewalks Of Chicago"), drunkards ("I Threw Away The Rose") and despair ("I Can't Be Myself," "Jesus, Take A Hold"). Haggard's versatility also allows him to tackle comic songs ("Sam Hill"), historical narrative ("The Legend Of Bonnie And Clyde") and songs of deep tenderness ("Today I Started Loving You Again"). EARLY YEARS provides a solid, inexpensive introduction to Haggard's first successful efforts in country. Those seeking a more extensive overview might consider Razor and Tie's THE LONESOME FUGITIVE.