Strangers album cover

Merle Haggard

Capitol Records

The kinda sorta title track to this 1965 album, “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” didn’t just give Merle Haggard his first hit, it also gave him the name of his backing band. While the majority of its 12 songs — which fly by in just 28 minutes, exhibiting a Ramones-ish economy — have a hard-edged honky-tonk sound, some of the ballads (“Falling For You,” “Sing A Sad Song,” “You Don’t Even Try”) are sweetened with Nashville-style strings. Haggard’s voice and persona aren’t fully formed yet; he’s in an overly sweet crooner mode here and there, but “If I Had Left It Up To You,” “The Worst Is Yet To Come,” “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can,” and the stinging version of Ernest Tubb’s “Walking The Floor Over You” that closes the album are glowing neon signs pointing toward what was to come.

Phil Freeman

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