Okie from Muskogee (song)
|"Okie from Muskogee"|
|Single by Merle Haggard and The Strangers|
|from the album Okie from Muskogee|
|B-side||"If I Had Left It Up to You"|
|Released||September 29, 1969|
|Recorded||July 17, 1969 (studio version)|
|Length||2:42 (studio version)|
3:29 (live version)
|Songwriter(s)||Roy Edward Burris|
|Merle Haggard and The Strangers singles chronology|
"Okie from Muskogee" is a song recorded by American country music artist Merle Haggard and The Strangers, which Haggard co-wrote with drummer Roy Edward Burris. "Okie" is a slang name for someone from Oklahoma, and Muskogee (population 40,000) is the 11th largest city in the state. The song was released in September 1969 as first single and title track from the album Okie from Muskogee, and was one of the most famous songs of Haggard's career.
Haggard told The Boot that he wrote the song after he became disheartened watching Vietnam War protests and incorporated that emotion and viewpoint into song. Haggard says, "When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything. During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause—we don't even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, bitching about it. There's something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys." He states that he wrote the song to support the troops. "We were in a wonderful time in America, and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak, and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers."
In an interview with American Songwriter, Haggard called the song a "character study," his 1969 self being the character: "It was the photograph that I took of the way things looked through the eyes of a fool... and most of America was under the same assumptions I was. As it’s stayed around now for 40 years, I sing the song now with a different attitude onstage... I’ve become educated... I play it now with a different projection. It’s a different song now. I’m different now."
Critic Kurt Wolff wrote that Haggard always considered what became a redneck anthem to be a spoof, and that today fans—even the hippies who are derided in the lyrics—have taken a liking to the song and find humor in some of the lyrics. Cover versions of the song were recorded by such countercultural acts as the Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, Phil Ochs, The Flaming Lips, The String Cheese Incident, and Hank Williams III backed by seminal stoner metal band The Melvins, all of which are and/or were avid users of marijuana, LSD, and other psychedelic drugs that the song condemns.
Written by Haggard and Roy Edward Burris (drummer for Haggard's backing band, and The Strangers) during the height of the Vietnam War, "Okie from Muskogee" grew from the two trading one-liners about small-town life, where conservative values were the norm and outsiders with ideals contrary to those ways were unwelcome. Here, the singer reflects on how proud he is to hail from Middle America, where its residents were patriotic, and didn't smoke marijuana, take LSD, wear beads and sandals, burn draft cards or challenge authority.
While it can be viewed as a satire of small-town America and its reaction to the antiwar protests and counterculture seen in America's larger cities, Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz writes that the song also "convincingly (gives) voice to a proud, strait-laced truck-driver type.... (I)n the end, he identifies with the narrator. He does not position the protagonist as angry, reactionary, or judgmental; it is more that the guy, a self-confessed 'square,' is confused by such changes and with a chuckle comes to the conclusion that he and his ilk have the right sort of life for themselves."
Chart performance and popularity
"Okie from Muskogee" immediately broke in popularity when released in late September 1969. By November 15, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart, where it remained for four weeks. It also became a minor pop hit as well, reaching number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The version of "Okie from Muskogee" that reached No. 1 was the studio recording. After the song became widely popular, a live concert recording was issued and although that version never charted, it became very popular as well. The live version's distinguishing characteristics include an enthusiastic crowd and Merle responding with his own quips at the end of at least two verses. The most popular live version, and the only live version released as a single, was recorded during a 1970 Haggard concert in Philadelphia that became the live album The Fightin' Side of Me. The song was included on a couple of Haggard's other live albums from the era, notably "Okie From Muskogee", released in 1969 and "I Love Dixie Blues", released in 1973. However, these recordings are not the live version the general public is familiar with.
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||41|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||3|
Parodies and cover versions
The song was the subject of parody versions by The Youngbloods as "Hippie From Olema", by David Peel and The Lower East Side Band as "Hippie From New York City", by Patrick Sky, as "NOsha from Kenosha" by Howie Dewin, and most notably by Chinga Chavin as "Asshole from El Paso"; the latter in particular uses Haggard's melody but substitutes more extreme lyrics. Kinky Friedman later covered "Asshole from El Paso" and the song subsequently became more associated with Friedman than with Chavin. The Grateful Dead has played the song live with The Beach Boys. Phil Ochs performed the song as included in a 1970 album recorded live at Carnegie Hall. In New Zealand, comedian Jon Gadsby recorded a local version as a satire, called "Scourer from Mataura" (a scourer being a worker in a wool processing plant).
Straight cover versions of the song were recorded by the Melvins on their album The Crybaby with Hank Williams III providing vocals, Tommy Cash in 1970, and Jeannie C. Riley's cover from the early 1970s.
John Denver performed a live version of the song, with backing vocals provided by Taffy Nivert. Denver modified lyrics from Patrick Sky's parody version, from his album Songs That Made America Famous, in which the Okie wanted to "join the Ku Klux", burn the Hippies, and be loved, or he'd punch you in the mouth.
- Dunham, Nancy (11 October 2010). "Merle Haggard, 'Okie from Muskogee' - Story Behind the Lyrics". The Boot. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
- Cooper, Peter (4 May 2010). "Merle Haggard: As He Is". Retrieved 17 February 2020.
- Wolff, Kurt, "Country Music: The Rough Guide," Rough Guides Ltd., London; Penguin Putnam, New York, distributor. p. 424 (ISBN 1-85828-534-8)
- Malone, Bill, "Country Music U.S.A," 2nd rev. ed. (University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002), p.371.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 146.
- Merle Haggard Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine, Country Music Association Awards Database.
- "Merle Haggard Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
- "Merle Haggard Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
- "Hippie from New York City". YouTube. 2010-12-18. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
-  Internet Archive Grateful Dead Live at Fillmore East on 1971-04-27