It’s been over half a century since Merle Haggard’s famous hit, “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” was released. A song about patriotism, his 1970 single, and the prior year’s “Okie From Muskogee” would push Haggard’s career from country music storyteller to legend.
As the 1960s came to a close, many folk musicians and rock-n-roll artists used music to touch on their opinions of the ongoing war at the time. Watch almost any movie based on the Vietnam War, and you’ll usually find Creedence Clearwater Revival songs playing in the background.
During this tense moment in our nation’s history, country music remained apolitical for the most part. So when Haggard released “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” it was a pivotal moment for the industry. The song describes a firm view of protesters and draft dodgers, offering a contrasting voice to the times’ politicized music.
The song’s narrator’s love for America is evident in the music. Supporting our troops is the right thing to do; however, his patriotism boils over into rage. The narrator defends freedom, “our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep,” ignoring the opposition of some “squirrely guy who just don’t believe in fightin.'”
“The Fightin’ Side of Me” was a career-defining moment for Haggard. The song proved to be a successful follow-up from “Okie From Muskogee.” Both topped the Hot Country Singles chart. Beforehand, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Mama Tried” created a rebellious, outlaw image for the singer. Later, he’d become a unique yet successful part of country music’s commentary on war.
Merle Haggard Performs Patriotic Tune on Variety Show
In 1970, Haggard surprised viewers when he stopped by The Porter Wagoner Show for a rowdy performance of his hit.
“I know that you’ll be proud that you joined us today,” said Wagoner before Haggard’s performance. “We’ve got one of the greatest country music artists of our time, a very special friend of mine I’m happy to say, and we’re delighted to have him on our show.”
Wagoner then introduced Haggard alongside his band, The Strangers, who immediately kicked off “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”