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4. Three-way Merle Haggard tie: The Fightin’ Side of Me, Okie From Muskogee, and Rainbow Stew.
Merle would take over the entire list if I’d let him. In 1996 in the Weekly Standard John Berlau wrote a thorough essay on the debate over Haggard’s politics. Here’s a taste:
In this way, if in no other, Haggard fits perfectly the definition of a conservative offered in Russell Kirk’s Enemies of the Permanent Things: “He neither denounces convention and conformity indiscriminately, nor defends every popular fashion of the evanescent hour. What he respects is a sound conformity to abiding principle and a healthy convention which keeps the knife from our throats.”
These are three of Haggard’s best. The Fightin’ Side of Me is a robust disagreement with — well, not so much with the Vietnam-era anti-war movement itself, but with the anti-war movement’s apparently bottomless contempt for America. Okie From Muskogee celebrates small-town values. Rainbow Stew is a wonderfully skeptical look at utopian politics. The chorus describes how, when all the politicians’ promises come to fruition, “We’ll all be drinking that free Bubble-up, and eating that rainbow stew.” I always thought “free Bubble-up” referred to free beer, but I recently learned it was just an off-brand Seven-Up. When the revolution comes, comrades, we will celebrate with — free Sierra Mist all around!
3. Stand By Your Man — Tammy Wynette
Ah, here’s a trip down memory lane:
“I’m not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Wynette demanded an apology, saying Mrs. Clinton had “offended every true country music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to a White House.”
The junior Senator from New York is still feeling that one, especially since the lovely, late, lamented Ms. Wynette’s ode to fidelity and the traditional family went on to be named the number one song in country music history by CMT in 2003.
2. Are the Good Times Really Over — Merle Haggard
Few people become conservatives because we read books about it. Instead, we observe a decline in the traditions and institutions we hold dear, and resolve to preserve and restore them. In doing so, many of us go through a meditation that sounds something like this. It would be a pretty gloomy song if it weren’t for the exhortation in the last verse to shake off our malaise, build cars that last, and take control of our destiny.
1. Smoke on the Water — Bob Wills
Topping the country charts for thirteen weeks of World War II was a fine example of patriotic Western Swing. Red Foley’s 1944 hit described the approaching reckoning with “the foes of all mankind”: Mussolini, Hirohito, and Hitler.
Unfortunately Foley’s version included a grim second verse that anticipated “nothing left but vultures” to inhabit Japan. Though those lines may have accurately captured America’s fury at Japanese atrocities, it’s not a sentiment to boast about. Or dance to.
So when Western Swing master Bob Wills recorded Foley’s hit in 1945, he dropped the flawed second verse and topped the country charts again. The Texas Playboys’ big-band boogie sounds even better, and the streamlined lyrics in Wills’ version emphasize America’s role in toppling tyrants:blockquote>Everybody who must fear them