Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Merle Haggard & Clint Eastwood, “Bar Room Buddies”

“Bar Room Buddies”

Merle Haggard & Clint Eastwood

Written by Milton Brown, Cliff Crofford, Steve Dorff, and Snuff Garrett

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 18, 1980

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

July 26, 1980

Merle Haggard is the greatest male country artist of all time.

Clint Eastwood is among the greatest film directors of all time.

When they came together to collaborate on “Bar Room Buddies,” Haggard’s greatness on record was already established.  Eastwood’s legendary directing career was still way off in the distance, and his acting was still considerably underrated.

Upon recording “Bar Room Buddies,” a duet used to promote the Eastwood film Bronco Billy, Haggard had his doubts about Eastwood’s talent beyond the silver screen.  It was a big hit, but Haggard’s instincts were correct.  This is a terrible record, and it’s the worst of Haggard’s chart toppers by a wide margin.  Clint Eastwood simply cannot sing, and it’s embarrassingly painful to listen to him try.

Haggard would later disavow this record, and rather than belabor the point, I’m going to let him have the final words here.  He told Newsweek that “I almost prostituted myself in some ways,” and later told writer Greg Oates that Eastwood “shouldn’t sell his camera.  I told him before we started, ‘I hope you’re a better singer than I’m an actor,’ but I believe I’m a better actor than he is a singer.”

These quotes were collected by writer Tom Roland in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, and Roland also shared that George Jones was supposed to be the duet partner with Eastwood, but legalities got in the way.  Truth be told, Jones probably would’ve been a better fit, simply because he had a goofy side on record that he could lean into.  Haggard was simply too dignified in his artistry to escape unscathed from this collaboration.

However, his next two singles were of the highest caliber.  “Misery and Gin” went top five, and it’s one of his best singles of the decade.  His next release was even better, and it returned him to the top in early 1981.  As for Eastwood, he charted with a Ray Charles duet (“Beers to You”) which missed the top forty. His final chart entry was a collaboration with T.G. Sheppard, “Make My Day,” which went top fifteen.   Both records are just as agonizing to listen to, but the Sheppard collaboration is ultimately the best Eastwood country record because he just speaks his Dirty Harry line and doesn’t try to sing.

“Bar Room Buddies” gets an F.

 

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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10 Comments

  1. I,too, have now heard this for the first time. At the risk of feeling Clint’s wrath….Poor, Merle. This is so beneath his true legacy. I wish “W” was a grade.

  2. I guess Clint should have listened to his alter ego Dirty Harry’s last line in 1973’s MAGNUM FORCE: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    As for his directing career–well, by the time this song and the film it comes from were out, he already had at least three “hits” behind him: 1971’s PLAY MISTY FOR ME (his first behind the camera, as well as in front); 1973’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER; and 1976’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. He was wise to stick to his movie career, as Merle was to stick with being a country music uber-legend.

  3. It is clear how the promise of cross-promotion and a perceived business opportunity trump artistry in these moments. I can imagine marketing teams becoming ecstatic by creative ideas like this, their eyes lighting up at the pure potential of partnering the biggest male artist in country music with the biggest male star in Hollywood.

    The only problem is that they let the stars get in their eyes.

    And ears.

    It’s hard to beleive no one heard how awful Eastwood sounded, so bad even Merle friggin’ Haggard couldn’t hide him from his significant shortcomings as a singer.

    The message is clear: the music doesn’t matter.

    The self-con (how we deceive ourselves)is completed, the single cut, and the decision is validated with a number one radio hit, thus the subsequent duets with Charles and Sheppard.

    This is Music City at its most sleazy and opportunistic and it’s why people hate “Nashville.”

    An absolute embarrassment.

  4. I’ve always liked the song. I get why Merle may not have liked it, but it’s just a fun sing a long song for me. Also love Make My Day with TG Sheppard. That’s the beauty of music, lyrics and the magic of any song… we all like different things.

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  5. …merle and clint – a match made in heaven that the country universe could have done without – probably. then again, it (kinda) worked out, say the charts. clint eastwood lifted acting naturally to another level here, which cannot exactly be said of merle haggard. 1980, what a historic year in country music.

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