Country Music Reclamation Project: Sing Me Back Home

Merle Haggard used his experience as a prison inmate to create some of country music’s best story songs — Mama Tried, I’m A Lonesome Fugitive, Branded Man — which may have made his 1957 arrest for armed robbery worth the while. At his best, Haggard deftly combined a crime writer’s stark depictions of criminal life with the pathos he hoped his real-life experience would generate.

Sing Me Back Home was the title song to his 1968 LP. By that point, Haggard had had a remarkable run, with (From Now On, All My Friends are Going to be) Strangers, Sing a Sad Song, Swinging Doors, Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, and Branded Man. He ought to have been writing tunes to be used in truck commercials*, but he still drew on his humble life and down-to-earth beliefs to craft this masterpiece of a song.

Sing Me Back Home (recorded by Merle Haggard)
written by Merle Haggard

The warden led a prisoner down the hallway to his doom
I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest
And I heard him tell the warden just before he reached my cell
‘Let my guitar-playing friend do my request.’
Let him. . .

Sing me back home with a song I used to hear
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die

I recalled last Sunday morning when a choir from off the street
Came in to sing a few old gospel songs
And I heard him tell the singers ‘There’s a song my mama sang.
Can I hear it once before you move along?’
Won’t you. . .

Sing me back home, the song my mama sang
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die

The reason that Sing Me Back Home is so popular with country fans, I think, is because of the awesome humanity of the song. It’s not a popular approach today, especially among those who most holy roll among us, to reserve judgment of another, to offer some kindness to a soul however flawed as the prisoner’s in this song. That choir today is more likely to lynch the condemned man than perform his request, and expect a first-class upgrade to heaven for their effort. The point is, there is a judgment waiting; one that matters. And the mercy shown by the choir is a reflection on them, not the crime being punished.

Besides, it’s not necessarily a done deal. As the kneeling prisoner hears whispered in his ear in Uncle Tupelo’s Lili Schull, “my grace is one sufficient to save the vilest one.”

*Sarcasm, of course

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *