Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Merle Haggard, “The Way I Am”

“The Way I Am”

Merle Haggard

Written by Sonny Throckmorton

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 9, 1980

On “The Way I Am,” Merle Haggard demonstrates how to keep up with the times without being overwhelmed by them.

As a pioneer of the California country sound, Haggard was instrumental in bringing pure honky tonk arrangements back to the forefront of the genre, with the influence of Western Swing also being prominent in his sound.  He’d been topping the charts regularly since the sixties, and he entered the eighties as one of the most reliable hitmakers country music had ever seen.  His 1979 album Serving 190 Proof had included two top five singles: “My Own Kind of Hat” and “Red Bandana.”  He returned to the top with the lead single and title track from his first 1980 album.

“The Way I Am” is still a classic Haggard record at its core, economical in its songwriting (courtesy of Sonny Throckmorton) and simple and plaintive in its delivery.  It delves into his common theme of the downtrodden working man, with the gentleman here steadfastly insisting that the way his life actually is doesn’t reflect who he actually is.

Haggard’s production is softer around the edges than usual, allowing it to blend into the radio landscape of the early eighties without compromising his musical identity.  It’s still a traditional country record, but the piano track marks it as being part of the burgeoning Urban Cowboy era.

Haggard’s stint on MCA Records was brief, and it isn’t usually considered a golden era for the Hall of Fame legend.  His previous Capitol records and his upcoming records for Epic are far more beloved.  But there are some real gems from the MCA Records that are in the same league of his most acclaimed recordings, and this is one of them.

“The Way I Am” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. One of many all time classics that the Hag produced. I was introduced to this song through Alan Jackson and love that version as well. I don’t know of it’s true but i swore i read somewhere that Haggard found this song in Sonny’s trash can in Sonny’s office and Sonny found out it was recorded when Haggard called him. If true talk about “Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

  2. Listen to Haggard’s hurt and frustration as he cries “reality” as counterpoint to accepting the shackles of how he has to make his living. This is a brilliant performance that stands in line with other country classics about wanting to escape circumstances dating as far back as Vernon Dalhart’s “The Prisoner Song.” The yodelling at the outro is both anchor and wings to the narrator’s conflict. Haggard touches all the country music bases here while standing smack dab in the early eighties. A classic.

  3. I think that Haggard’s MCA output, like Cash’s Mercury output, is severely underappreciated.

    True, there were few scintillating singles ; however, there are many interesting album tracks. It is too bad that there was never a decent 2 CD set summarising his tenure at MCA.

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