November 15th brought country music two of its longest lasting and most widely covered songs from two of its most revered artists.
The first of which comes from Merle Haggard who, on Saturday, November 15th 1969, reached the #1 spot with his song ‘Okie from Muskogee.’ This is important for many reasons, not the least of which the importance of the song in the country music lexicon. On the same day in Washington D.C. the Vietnam Moratorium Committee rallied with reportedly half-a-million protesters at the foot of the Washington Monument in what the New York Times described as “a mass gathering of moderate and radical left” and is historically one of, if not, the largest anti-war protest in American history.
The impetus behind the hit, despite some minor inconsistency, surely falls somewhere in between Haggard’s explanations of the song being a sort of small-town satire but also having an honest conviction in his derision of protesters pointing fingers at the soldiers who had made significant sacrifice to honor the commitments they had made. Haggard’s #1 has endured for more than forty-five years and, though the venues continue to change, appears to stand as true today as it did in 1969.
The second of the two #1’s that November 15th brought us is Waylon Jennings, ‘Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?’ in 1975. The seminal Hank Williams tribute held the top position for only a brief week, however, it’s noteworthy for Missouri radio as to what dropped Jennings’ from the top of the chart. The following week, ‘Rocky’ as recorded by Dickey Lee takes over the number one position. ‘Rocky’ was penned by legendary Springfield, Missouri on-air radio personality Woody P. Snow, otherwise known as Jay Stevens.
In another noteworthy point about the release of ‘Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?’, the song was the A-side to another prominent Jennings’ tribute, ‘Bob Wills is Still the King.’ These two songs paying tribute to two of the preeminent figures of the early years of country and western music serve as a nostalgic look back while also questioning the directions of the 1970’s shift of country music towards what was dubbed the “Nashville Sound;” a sound based more in string sections and pop sensibility than that which their predecessors had produced.
As true as Haggard’s political concerns were in 1969 and Jennings’ music-business critique was in 1975, it’s undoubtedly true that the sentiments of each #1 is as relevant today as it was at the time of their release. That is the staple of an enduring song.