The Story Behind Merle Haggard “Big City”

(written by Merle Haggard and Dean Holloway)

The Story Behind Merle Haggard “Big City”
Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

Merle Haggard approached his album projects with a unique perspective, often downplaying his efforts and claiming indifference to the outcome. However, the “Big City” project marked a departure from this attitude, likely due to his new collaboration with Epic Records following long stints at Capitol and MCA. As his debut album with Epic, Haggard seemed intent on making a strong impression and spoke highly of the project, expressing pride in its creation.

The album took about two years to complete, and notably, the title track “Big City” was added late in the process. The inspiration for this song came unexpectedly during sessions at Britannia Studios in West Hollywood. Merle’s friend Dean Holloway’s complaint about the “dirty sidewalks of the big city” sparked Haggard’s creativity, leading him to write the title track in just 20 minutes.

>>READ ALSO: The Story Behind Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”

Despite his earlier aversion to the honky-tonk “shuffle” beat popular in country music, Haggard decided to incorporate this style into “Big City,” contrary to his usual studio preferences. The song, with its twin fiddles and relatable lyrics about the stresses of urban life, resonated deeply with listeners and soared to the top of the country singles chart in 1982.

Haggard believed that “Big City” struck a chord because it voiced common frustrations and sentiments shared by many, touching on societal issues like the rat race and Social Security anxieties. The success of the single propelled the album to gold certification in 1983, marking Merle’s first gold record in nearly a decade.

Following the triumph of “Big City,” Haggard released “Are the Good Times Really Over,” which also addressed economic concerns. This track, reminiscent of his earlier hit “My Favorite Memory,” became another standout from the album and reinforced Merle’s reputation for poignant, socially relevant songwriting.

>>READ ALSO: Merle Haggard’s Final Recorded Song, “Kern River Blues,” Is Imbued With Memories

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