Let Me Tell You About a Song

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Let Me Tell You About a Song
Let Me Tell You About a Song.jpg
Studio album by Merle Haggard
Released June 1972
Recorded August 30 at Buck Owens Studio, Bakersfield, CA and November 8, 18-19, 1971 at Capitol Records Studio, Hollywood, CA
Genre Country
Label Capitol ST-882
Producer Ken Nelson
Merle Haggard chronology
The Land of Many Churches
(1971)
Let Me Tell You About a Song
(1972)
It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)
(1972)

Let Me Tell You About a Song is the sixteenth studio album by American country singer Merle Haggard, released in 1972. It reached #7 on the Billboard Country album chart and #166 on the Pop album chart. The lead-off singles were "Grandma Harp" and "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)" — both reached #1.

Background[edit]

The album includes Haggard explaining the origins of each song with spoken introductions while praising the talents of those who inspired him, such as Tommy Collins and Bob Wills. Compositionally, the album is split between Haggard originals and cover songs written by Collins, Wills, Red Foley and Joe Simpson, and also contains two #1 country hits, "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)" and "Grandma Harp," both penned by Haggard. According to the liner notes to the 1994 box set Down Every Road, "Daddy Frank" derived from stories his wife Bonnie Owens had told him about her own mother, who had a hearing problem, and her father, who wasn't blind but loved to play harmonica. Haggard wed their story to that of the Maddox Brothers and Rose, who had moved from Alabama to California by boxcar during the Depression before forming their famous hillbilly boogie band. The young voices heard on "Daddy Frank" are those of his daughter Dana and of his manager Fuzzy Owen's daughter Cindy.

The album also contains "Irma Jackson," a song Merle describes in his preamble as his favorite "because it tells it like it is" but had remained unreleased because "the time wasn't right." The song tells the story of a doomed interracial romance between a white man and an African-American woman. Haggard had wanted to follow his hit "Okie from Muskogee" with the song but was advised not to by his record label. As Jonathan Bernstein recounts in his online Rolling Stone article "Merle Haggard Reluctantly Unveils 'The Fightin' Side of Me'", "Hoping to distance himself from the harshly right-wing image he had accrued in the wake of the hippie-bashing "Muskogee," Haggard wanted to take a different direction and release "Irma Jackson" as his next single... When the Bakersfield, California native brought the song to his record label, executives were reportedly appalled. In the wake of 'Okie,' Capitol Records was not interested in complicating Haggard's conservative, blue-collar image." After "The Fightin' Side of Me" was released instead, Haggard later commented to the Wall Street Journal, "People are narrow-minded. Down South they might have called me a nigger lover." In an interview with Cantwell in 2001, Haggard stated that his producer Ken Nelson, who was also head of the country division at Capitol at the time, never interfered with his music but "this one time he came out and said, 'Merle...I don't believe the world is ready for this yet'...And he might have been right. I might've canceled out where I was headed in my career."[1]

As Haggard relates in his spoken introduction to the song, "They're Tearin' the Labor Camps Down" is about the disappearance of labor camps like the one he had spent time at in Houston, California when he was a boy. The camps were homes for transplanted "Okies" trying to make a better life for themselves. In the country music documentary Beyond Nashville, Haggard insists that the people in these camps "weren't ignorant, they weren't a lot of things Steinbeck thought they were. My aunt and uncle...lived in a canvass-covered cabin beside the railroad track in Houston, California, and I got to visit them once in a while and really get to know those people and see the impact that the Depression had on them..."[citation needed]

Let Me Tell You About a Song was reissued along with Hag on CD by Beat Goes On Records in 2002.[2]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars [3]
Robert Christgau (B+)[4]

AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote of the album, "It's quite a journey, and it's yet another excellent record from an artist who at this time in his career seemed capable of delivering nothing less."[3] Music critic Robert Christgau wrote "But despite its mawkish moments—especially Tommy Collins's dead-mommy song—the material defines Haggard's sensibility in a winning way, and since not one of the songs is great in itself I guess the commentary must do it."[4]

Track listing[edit]

All songs by Merle Haggard unless otherwise noted:

  1. "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)" – 3:23
  2. "They're Tearin' the Labor Camps Down" – 3:33
  3. "Man Who Picked the Wildwood Flower" (Tommy Collins) – 3:26
  4. "Recitation" The Proudest Fiddle in the World (A Maiden's Prayer)" (Bob Wills) – 2:34
  5. "Bill Woods from Bakersfield" (Joe Simpson) – 3:15
  6. "Old Doc Brown" (Red Foley) – 3:26
  7. "Grandma Harp" – 3:11
  8. "Turnin' Off a Memory" – 2:48
  9. "Irma Jackson" – 2:56
  10. "Funeral" (Collins) – 3:18
  11. "Bring It on Down to My House, Honey" (Wills) – 2:49

Personnel[edit]

  • Merle Haggard – vocals, guitar
  • Roy Nichols – guitar, harmonica
  • Bobby Wayne – guitar
  • Tommy Collins – guitar
  • Norman Hamlet – pedal steel guitar, dobro
  • Dennis Hromek – bass
  • Biff Adam – drums
  • Johnny Gimble – fiddle
  • Billy Liebert – piano
  • Glen D. Hardin – piano

Chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Position
1972 Billboard Country albums 7
1972 Billboard Pop albums 166

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bernstein, Jonathan (December 23, 2014). "Flashback: Merle Haggard Reluctantly Unveils 'The Fightin' Side of Me'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ Allmusic entry for Hag/Let Me Tell You About a Song. Retrieved December 2009.
  3. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Let Me Tell You About a Song > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Let Me Tell You About a Song > Review". Robert Christgau. Retrieved February 21, 2015.