Country Throwback: Merle Haggard Records Iconic Hit ‘Hungry Eyes’ 52 Years Ago Today

by Matthew Wilson

It may not seem like it. But it’s been over half a century since Merle Haggard recorded his hit “Hungry Eyes.” The song became one of his most classic and enduring tunes throughout his career.

Haggard recorded the song during one of his many sessions at Capitol Recording Studios in Los Angeles. The tune would go on to feature on Haggard’s 10th studio album “A Portrait of Merle Haggard,” which released in 1969.

The song became another No. 1 hit for Haggard, according to Billboard, cementing his status as a hot commodity in the industry. Now 52 years later, the song takes on new meaning, preserving a piece of time for future generations to enjoy.

Many may assume that Haggard is singing from personal experience. But Haggard always found a way to make his songs sound personal. “Hungry Eyes” featured Haggard at his most elegant and somber, with a voice like a poet and the weariness of a blues player. The song sings of poverty, of a family’s matriarch who dreams of having more for herself and her family. Hence the “hungry eyes” of the piece.

Merle Haggard Paid Tribute to His Mother

While not exactly autobiographical, Haggard imbues the song with feelings of his own mother. She raised him pretty much single-handily in a small boxcar-style home. Haggard knew a bit about what poverty felt like and also what being on the wrong side of the law felt like. That made his music relatable for the many fans that flocked to him in droves.

According to historian Bill Malone, Haggard captured the attitudes and mentality of a whole generation in the song. While a tribute to his mother, “Hungry Eyes” also explored Oklahoma citizens living during the Great Depression.

Many of these citizens worked in labor camps as they tried to make enough to support their families. It was a time of much suffering and hardship with plenty of “hungry eyes” to go around.