Merle Haggard

Okie from Muskogee

Song Review by

"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.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1968
Fightin' Side of Me 1970 King / King Special
No Image 1976 Capitol
Country Music Classics, Vol. 3 (1965-70) 1984
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:42
Platoon (And Songs from the Era) 1986
Original Soundtrack
Atlantic 3:05
All American 1987
Various Artists
Liberty 3:04
Country U.S.A.: 1969 1989
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Capitol Collectors Series 1990 Capitol 2:42
Great Records of the Decade: 60's Hits Country, Vol. 1 1990
Various Artists
Curb 2:52
Country Pride [Excelsior] 1991 Excelsior Recordings
Okie from Muskogee [Capitol Special Markets Compilation] 1992 EMI-Capitol Special Markets / Pair 2:45
Merle Haggard: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 1994 Curb 2:44
#1 Hits 1994 K-Tel Distribution 2:42
Super Hits, Vol. 2 1994 Epic / Sony Music Distribution 2:41
Sing Me Back Home: Hits 1994 Drive Archive 2:42
Bet Your Country on It 1994
Various Artists
Drive Archive 2:42
The 101 Greatest Country Hits [Box] 1995
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:42
20 Hits, Vol. 1 1995 Curb 2:40
Greatest Hits [Cema] 1995 EMI-Capitol Special Markets / CEMA Special Markets 2:44
The Lonesome Fugitive: The Merle Haggard Anthology (1963-1977) 1995 Razor & Tie 2:43
Okie from Muskogee [King Compilation] 1996 King 2:41
The One & Only 1996 Intercontinental Records 2:43
Country Legends [Intersound] 1996
Various Artists
Intersound 2:46
Down Every Road 1996 Capitol Nashville / Capitol 2:42
Silver Wings 1996 Kingfisher Records 2:41
Golden Classics: 23 Classic Tracks 1996 Double Play Records 2:34
God Bless the U.S.A. [Eclipse] 1996
Various Artists
BCI-Eclipse Distribution / Eclipse Music Group
Country Classics, Vol. 2 1996 Critique Records 2:41
The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard [Federal] 1996 Edge / Federal Records 2:53
Okie from Muskogee [Sun Compilation] 1997 Sun Record Company 2:41
My Best 1997 Simitar Distribution
Country's #1's 1997
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 2:43
The Academy of Country Music's 101 Greatest Country Hits, Vol. 10: Country Roads 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:42
Super Hits/Super Hits, Vol. 2/Super Hits, Vol. 3 1997 Sony Music Distribution 2:41
Hot Country [Beacon] 1997
Various Artists
Beacon Records (Rock) / Beacon Records
Legendary Performer 1997 Boomerang Records / Beacon Records
This Is Merle Haggard 1998 Music Club Records 2:42
16 Biggest Hits 1998 Legacy / Epic 2:41
I'm a Lonesome Fugitive [Compilation] 1998 Country Stars 2:41
Back 2 Back: Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty 1998 Double Play Records 2:43
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1/Greatest Hits, Vol. 1-2 1999 Platinum Disc 2:41
Back to Back 1999 Masters / Intercontinental Records 2:42
A&E Biography 1999 Capitol / EMI Records 2:44
For the Record: 43 Legendary Hits 1999 BNA 2:43
4 Country Living Legends 1999
Various Artists
Double Play Records 2:41
Monster Mash & Other Love Songs 1999
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 2:42
Classic Country: 1965-1974 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:44
Classic Country: 1965-1969 [2 CD 1999] 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:44
Country Celebrates America 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:42
Country Music Classics 2000
Various Artists
Import 2:44
The Best of Country 2000 Direct Source 2:42
The Best of Dueling Country 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:43
The Best of Country Gold [Direct Source Box Set #2] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:44
Good Old Country 2000 St. Clair 2:44
Super Hit Set 2000 King 3:55
Greatest Hits [Legend] 2000 Delta Distribution / Legend 2:41
20 Number One Hits 2000 Varèse Vintage / Varese 2:42
100 Country Greats 2000
Various Artists
Import 2:45
Oh Boy Classics Presents: Merle Haggard 2000 Oh Boy 2:42
Legendary Kings of Country 2000
Various Artists
MRA / Mastersound 3:24
No Image 2000 Koch
Country Anthems 2001
Various Artists
Masters / Intercontinental Records 2:42
Classic Hits of Country 2001
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:40
Jammin' Oldies: Classic Country 2001
Various Artists
Masters / Intercontinental Records 2:42
Merle Haggard: 20 Great Hits 2001 Platinum Disc 2:45
Super Hits [Haggard/Twitty] 2002 King 2:44
21 Years Of Number 1 Hits 2002 Double Play Records 2:44
Best of Merle Haggard [Columbia] 2002 Columbia River Entertainment Group 3:25
Ultimate Country Super Hits [Sony Box Set] 2002
Various Artists
Immediate / Sony Music Distribution 2:42
The Ultimate Classic Country Collection 2002
Various Artists
WEA International 2:56
David Allan Coe Presents Merle Haggard 2002 Coe Pop Records 2:42
Country Legends 2002 St. Clair 2:34
Sound of Country 2003
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:32
Country Legend, Vol. 2 2003 Platinum Disc 2:43
Country's Greatest [2003] 2003
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:43
Country Legend [2 Disc] 2003 Platinum Disc 2:43
24 at No. 1 2003 Teevee Records 2:43
Momma Tried 2003 Blumountain Records 2:45
The Fightin' Side of Me: 15 #1 Hits 2003 Dualtone Music 2:46
The Collection [Madacy] 2003 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:45
Classic American Voices 2003 Direct Source 2:42
Travelling Country [K-Tel #1] 2003
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:42
Nashville Legends [Readers Digest] 2003
Various Artists
Reader's Digest Music 2:42
101 Country and Western Greats 2003
Various Artists
Fabulous 2:43
101 Country & Western Greats Volume 1 2003
Various Artists
Fabulous 2:43
Country Greats, Vol. 1 2004
Various Artists
CBUJ Distribution 2:44
Collection [EMI] 2004 EMI Music Distribution 2:55
Platinum & Gold Collection 2004 BMG Heritage 2:43
The Great Country Collection 2004
Various Artists
Red X 2:43
40 Greatest Hits 2004 Intersound 2:44
Road Trip: Open Road Country 2004
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:42
Greetings From Oklahoma: The Sooner State 2004
Various Artists
And More Bears 2:41
Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson 2004 Platinum Disc 2:42
Merle Haggard [Platinum Disc] 2004 Platinum Disc 2:42
Sing Me Back Home [RCR/Cbuj Compilation] 2005 CBUJ Distribution 2:44
Patriotic Country, Vol. 2 2005
Various Artists
BMG / BMG Heritage 2:41
Legends: Merle Haggard 2005 Direct Source / Direct Source Special 2:43
The Best of Merle Haggard [St. Clair] 2005 St. Clair / Essential Records 2:33
Gets Rowdy 2005 Brentwood Records 2:42
Greatest Hits Collection 2005 Direct Source 2:44
Very Best of Merle Haggard [EMI Gold] 2007 EMI 2:44
Number One Songs 2008 Curb 2:42
Greatest Hits: Limited Edition [Curb] 2008 Curb 2:42
It's Country [Play 27-7]
Various Artists
Play 24-7 / Play 27-7 2:42
No Image Capitol