Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Merle Haggard, “That’s the Way Love Goes”

“That’s the Way Love Goes”

Merle Haggard

Written by Lefty Frizzell and Sanger Shafer


#1 (1 week)

February 11, 1984

Merle Haggard returns to the top with a cover of a Johnny Rodriguez hit that was also recorded and co-written by Lefty Frizzell.

“That’s the Way Love Goes” showcases the depth of Haggard’s interpretive skills.  He’s no stranger to material about working class guys who are down on their luck, so this tender ballad of gratitude is right in his wheelhouse.  This woman has stood by him through thick and thin, and he is fully aware of how blessed he is, even if his bank account doesn’t show it.

Haggard would later revisit this song as a beautiful duet with Jewel in the late nineties, and it’s a worthy endeavor to seek that version out as well.  There’s an added poignancy that comes with him singing it as an older man.

This record kicks off a string of five No. 1 hits for Haggard, a feat he hadn’t accomplished since 1974-1975.

“That’s the Way Love Goes” gets an A.  

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Love Merle, and this recording of this song, but I do have to admit Johnny Rodriguez’s version is my favorite.

  2. Despite being such a brilliant vocal mimic, Haggard was always his own singer. There is a subtlety to his phrasing that is hard to explain.

    I absolutely love when connections can be made between eras and stars in country music history. Songs like this are so important because they promote and reward curiosity while connecting the dots for listeners.

    I hope somebody goes back to both the works of Johnny Rodriquez and Lefty Frizzell because of this song being rediscovered in this retrospective feature.

    I always remember hearing Lefty Frizzell sing for the first despite having read about him for years. I was in high school in the early nineties and the internet was still some years away, so I either heard music on the radio or I read about it.

    I was working at the Rockford Road Animal Hospital while in high school. It was my job to clean the exam rooms, the waiting room, and the kennels. I also had to care for any post -surgery animals as well as walk any dogs boarding at the clinic.

    The clinic was closed on Sundays so I worked alone which meant I had control of the radio all to myself.

    A buddy of mine had recently alerted me to a classic country music station on the am dial out of Hudson, Wisconsin.

    I had it playing loudly as a mopped and slopped away.

    I will always remember hearing Lefty’s signature drawl for the first time while scrubbing floors on my hands and knees in a veterinarian’s office in Plymouth, Minnesota. It was an epiphany. The song I heard on the radio was “Saginaw, Michigan.”

    Time stood still as my chin dropped to the floor and I just listened to that mythic voice exceeding any expectation I had of it.

    I like to think the moment was just as memorable for the dogs and cats who shared it with me.

    To bring it back to Haggard, he was without peer. I l recently shared my love for Conway Twitty, John Conlee, and Don Williams, but Haggard stands alone.

    What a gift to be able to find them all still at the top of the charts in 1984.

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