Certain Songs #1130: Merle Haggard – “Mama Tried”

Album: Mama Tried
Year: 1968

Coming down squarely on the “nature” side of the nature vs. nurture debate, Merle Haggard’s timeless classic “Mama Tried” is a semi-autobiographical apology to his mother for his behavior as a young man, which culminated in a stint in San Quentin for armed robbery.

A stint that was eventually wiped away in 1972 when the Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, gave him a full and unconditional pardon, pretty much for writing songs as great as “Mama Tried.”

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Certain Songs #1129: Merle Haggard – “Skid Row”

Album: Down Every Road
Year: 1962

Merle Haggard is another one of those artists where I spent years and years figuring that I’d get around to him eventually, but it took his death a couple of years ago for me to finally dig out the Down Every Road box set and see what I’d been missing all these years.

Turns out, quite a lot, and honestly, I’m still working my way through it, but it was clear that Merle Haggard pretty much had his thing in mind from the very start.

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Certain Songs #1128: Men Without Hats – “The Safety Dance”

Album: Rhythm of Youth
Year: 1983

OK. Let’s just say that I’ve been an unabashed fan of this hookfest from the very start: I even gave the underlying album (the long-forgotten Rhythm of Youth) a good review in the very second issue of Dead Air Diary.

Sure, it all seemed vaguely silly, right down to the somewhat problematic-but-ubiquitous medieval-themed video that was played approximately five times an hour on MTV, but here’s the thing: that video — and the single it was based on — was a completely different version of the song that people who bought the album or the extended dance version of the single heard. Not just shorter, but completely different in conception — and with fewer hooks, to boot.

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Certain Songs #1127: The Men – “I Saw Her Face”

Album: New Moon
Year: 2013

I liked The Men’s 2013 album, New Moon, so much when it came out that I’m pretty sure I ended up having my own personal backlash against it shortly thereafter.

Cut from much the same cloth as 2012’s, Open Your Heart, what separated New Moon from its predecessor was another layer of classic rock and addition of keyboards to their whitelight whiteheat guitars and fuzzy vocals. The result was intoxicating to me.

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Certain Songs #1126: The Men – “Oscillation”

Album: Open Your Heart
Year: 2012

Hailing from Brooklyn, The Men have the misfortune of playing a wide variety of rock styles — mostly fast, but not always punk, even though that’s the usual shorthand for how they’re described — in an era where nobody gives a shit about bands who do that.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. It’s not so much that nobody gives a shit, but rather the culture at large has gone away from straight-ahead rock and roll, so the most they’re ever going to get out of it is a few good reviews and maybe some sold-out shows.

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