It has been a few days since my 45 listening party, and now I am reengaging to talk about another record. This time, I couldn't help doing some research, if only to find out that what I presumed was the A Side, was indeed, the A Side.
"The Fugitive", a 1966 single by Merle Haggard, is a song about being on the run from the law. This is what many people might think of when they think of Outlaw Country, although that label has other meanings. It is also significant because Merle Haggard himself had been in San Quentin Prison, although he did not write the lyrics of the song. Over a spare country sound, Haggard sings about being a hunted man and "rolling stone", moving from city to city, and being lonely. It is a pretty standard country theme, and at two and a half minutes long, it doesn't contain anything new lyrically or musically. Pretty basic stuff, except for one thing.
In the other country songs I listened to, the musician was more or less subsidiary to the music. And this was pretty much the case with a lot of country, or pop music, before the mid-1960s. The musician was a custodian for the music. He was merely a technician to present a universal, relatable experience to an audience that knew what it was getting. Which is not to say that musicians didn't have personalities or signature songs, but that those things weren't as important as the music. But here, instead of Merle Haggard bringing us the music, the music is bringing us Merle Haggard. It is a vehicle so that we can connect to Merle Haggard and his mythos, to form a parasocial relationship with. And while this persona might be a bit constructed (the song talks about being a fugitive, but is very short on the specifics of why he is a fugitive), I still listened to this record and wanted to know more about Merle Haggard. And he wasn't the first person in country music to do this: Johnny Cash had constructed a personal mythos as well. But it does show that in country music, just as in popular music and rock music, in the 1960s, there was a Copernican Revolution in the priority of music: music connected us to the personality of the singer, instead of vice-versa.
Interestingly enough, the B-Side of the single continues to reimagine the genre. It is entitled "Someone Told My Story". While it isn't particularly musically innovative, the lyrics describe the narrator playing a song on the jukebox that he finds, to his surprise, perfectly describes his recent heartbreak. Country songs about cheating hearts aren't original, but this song talks about how experiences are mirrored by media, and how media changes and shapes our perceptions of our own experiences: quite an interesting analysis for a B-Side of a single in 1966.
I am not going to say that Merle Haggard recorded this single as some type of master plan to post-modernistically deconstruct popular and country music. But he was innovative enough that this song shows a transformation across popular musics in the mid-1960s: instead of music being a transparent way to communicate relatable experiences, it was a way for singers, and listeners, to connect to personal experiences.