Serving 190 Proof album cover
Serving 190 Proof

Merle Haggard

MCA Records

Haggard was in his forties when Serving 190 Proof was released in 1979, and while he’d always been an introspective songwriter, verging on morose at times, this was a startlingly dark record. It opens with “Footlights,” a song about the emotional hollowness at the heart of show business; he said it was inspired by having to hit the stage five minutes after learning of the death of his hero, Lefty Frizzell. “Heaven Was A Drink Of Wine” paints a stark and terrifying portrait of self-destructive alcoholism, and while “I Can’t Get Away” is set to an Urban Cowboy-esque country-disco beat, the lyrics are about running away from life even as he knows how futile that is. The instrumentation is mostly stripped-down, ready for the nightclub stage, though some surprises (like saxophone) pop up here and there.

Phil Freeman

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