Mama Tried (song)
|Single by Merle Haggard and The Strangers|
|from the album Mama Tried|
|B-side||"You'll Never Love Me Now"|
|Released||July 22, 1968|
|Recorded||May 9, 1968|
|Merle Haggard and The Strangers singles chronology|
"Mama Tried" is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Merle Haggard and The Strangers. It was released in July 1968 as the first single and title track from the album Mama Tried. The song became one of the cornerstone songs of his career. It won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, and was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its "cultural, historic, or artistic significance" on March 23, 2016, just 14 days before Haggard's death.
However, the song is not literally autobiographical, as many country music historians point out. While writer Bill Malone's assessment of the song is in agreement with Ace Collins' (referring to his own experiences that saw him sentenced to prison), Malone points out that Haggard never was sentenced to "life without parole," as the protagonist in the song was. Still the song's lyrics, and the protagonist's experiences, are heavily influenced by Haggard's early life.
Additionally, Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz notes Haggard's lyrics are sympathetic to his mother, who tried everything in her power to rehabilitate her rebel son. But, as the lyrics point out, "In spite of all my Sunday learning, towards the bad I kept on turning/'Til mama couldn't hold me anymore"; thus the observation, "I turned 21 in prison doin' life without parole."
Released in July 1968, Mama Tried was Merle Haggard and The Strangers fifth No. 1 song on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart in August. The song spent four weeks at No. 1, and was his biggest hit to that time.
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles ||1|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
In popular culture
Haggard's version of "Mama Tried" was on the soundtrack of the 1968 film Killers Three, a film which featured his acting debut.
In the 5th season finale of Gilmore Girls ("A House is Not a Home," 2005), Stars Hollow's "Town Troubadour" is singing the song on a street corner soon after Lorelai brings Rory home from a night in jail.
In the 2008 film The Strangers, the song is used to build tension whilst also referencing the potential poor upbringing of the films' antagonists. Haggard's own band was also called The Strangers.
In the 2nd series of the 2008 UK television series Survivors, the song is often played and sung by truck driver Billy Stringer.
In 2010, the song was sung as a plot element by Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) to a young incarcerated Hispanic gang member on TNT's Southland season 2 premiere "Phase Three".
In April 2018 it was used in a Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 episode.
Joan Baez covered the song in 1969, along with another Haggard song, "Sing Me Back Home", though her versions of both songs went unreleased until they were included on her 1993 boxed set Rare, Live & Classic; they later appeared on the 2005 reissue of her 1970 album (I Live) One Day at a Time.
David Allan Coe covered it. It appears on several compilation albums including "Truckin' Outlaw" and "20 Greatest Hits".
The song has been a live standard for Texas alt-country band Old 97's for their entire career, and was recorded for their debut album.
American Oi! band Forced Reality covered the song. It appears on their Unheard, Unreleased, and Under the Boot compilation.
The Seldom Scene covered the song on their 2007 Sugar Hill Records release, SCENEchronized.
American bluegrass band Greensky Bluegrass have played the song many times at live shows.
Ray LaMontagne includes the song in many live shows.
Comedian Neil Hamburger recorded and released a version on his 2014 LP "First of Dismay".
Other recorded versions include:
- Blues man Albert Lee
- Commander Cody of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
- Conway Twitty
- Johnny Cash with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
- Marty Stuart with John Anderson
- Merle Haggard with Buck Owens and Willie Nelson
- Merle Haggard with Conway Twitty
- Merle Haggard with Ray Price and Willie Nelson
- Merle Haggard with Roger Miller and Bill Anderson
- Merle Haggard with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings
- Percy Sledge
- Randy Travis
- Reba McEntire
- The Buckaroos
- The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- Toby Keith with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
- Troy Cassar-Daley with Adam Harvey
- Willie Nelson
- The Dirty Nil
- "New Entries to National Recording Registry | News Releases - Library of Congress". Loc.gov. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
- Collis, Ace, The Stories Behind Country Music's All-Time Greatest: 100 Songs, Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 1996, p. 198-200. (ISBN 1-57297-072-3)
- Malone, Bill, The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music ((booklet included with The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music 8-volume set). Smithsonian Institution, 1981).
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 146.