"It started as a joke but it only took three seconds before we realized the importance of it," Merle Haggard has noted of the redneck anthem "Okie From Muskogee." Apparently Haggard and his band, the Strangers, started goofing around on the tour bus after passing through Muskogee, OK, the state from which Haggard's ancestors migrated -- along with thousands of like-minded neighbors -- to the Bakersfield, CA, area during the Great Depression. Haggard and drummer Roy Burris started riffing, trading lines: "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don't make a party out of loving/But we like holding hands and pitching woo/We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy/Like the hippies out in San Francisco do." The writing process began by mocking the place, satirizing small-town America's reaction to the cultural and political upheaval of the late '60s, with Haggard all the while convincingly giving voice to a proud, straight-laced truck-driver type. The kicker is, Haggard has it both ways; in 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. He takes a more live-and-let-live tone, while he holds on tightly to the values with which he was raised, thank you very much: "We still wave Old Glory down at the court house/In Muskogee Oklahoma U.S.A." As a result of this ambiguously patriotic sentiment, the mainstream country music audience identified with and embraced the single, sending it to number one on the country charts and just missing the Top 40 (it was later made available on the 1969 ad-hoc LP Okie From Muskogee). This ambiguity seems to not be the design of some cynical ironist; Haggard, with his Okie heritage colliding with his position as a thinking artist, was clearly as torn as many were during the tumultuous time -- with a loyalty to the old values of God and country, but confused by the rapid changes and an ongoing conflict in Vietnam. "There's something special about Oklahoma," noted Haggard. "My family was from Oklahoma but migrated to California during the Dust Bowl days. So, I guess I was a transplanted Okie. Just like godfather to a child, Oklahoma is a 'godstate' to me." Because of the song's resonance with conservatives, Haggard was asked, but refused to endorse politician George Wallace. Haggard reflected on the song's political context in an interview with the satirical paper the Onion, "Oh, I must have been an idiot. It's documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time, and I mirror that. I always have. Staying in touch with the working class...but it's pretty easy to lie to me. You could lie to me. They had me in a film called Wag the Dog because of "Okie From Muskogee" and my close scrutiny of the people that are being shitted. I've become self-educated since I wrote that song. But it still has a very timely description." Haggard seems to have run with the success and the more literal interpretation of the song, going on to record the patriotic (if not outrightly jingoistic) song "The Fighting Side of Me." In the context of a diverging cultural gap, it seems like the singer/songwriter felt he had to choose either to continue to appeal to his bread-and-butter audience -- the conservative working class -- or its antithesis, what is now referred to as the cultural elite. It was a defense mechanism, with Haggard standing up for the people of the heartland and the values they felt were being undermined: "I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee." Other, hippie-identified artists like the Grateful Dead and James Taylor, however, picked up the song as part of their early-'70s live repertoire, performing it tongue-in-cheek, embracing it as satire. Musically it is a catchy, even pretty country song, with a singalong chorus, a hummable melody, and an uplifting modulation in key. The Strangers provide ample support, with warm, strumming acoustic guitars interwoven with folky-picked acoustic and electric licks and arpeggios.