“Mama Tried”

One of the great figures in American music, Merle Haggard, turned twenty-one in prison and turns seventy-seven today. If you know Hag’s music, you know I just quoted one of his classic songs, “Mama Tried.” Admittedly, it doesn’t have the harmonic complexity of “All the Things You Are” or “Body and Soul,” and might not have the emotional tug of Haggard ballads such as “If We Make It Through December,” “Today, I Started Loving You Again,” and “The Bottle Let Me Down.”

But it’s just such a tight song: two minutes of modest perfection, instrumental solo included. I’ve thought so ever since I heard the Grateful Dead’s version back in the ’70s. (That one went a lot longer than two minutes.) In honor of the birthday boy, here’s one of Hag’s own renditions, recorded on “Austin City Limits” in 1985. (Sit tight through the forty-five-second intro.)

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