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Feb. 28: Remember a couple of weeks ago, when in a discussion of country drinking songs I said this was one of the best? Today, on the 44th anniversary of its release as a single, you get to judge for yourself.

(Updated; obsolete info deleted:)

This is the version that kicked off the album Swinging Doors and The Bottle Let Me Down, which came out later in 1966. I think another take was used for the single, based on my Sirius Satellite Radio listening over the past several years. The differences I detect are in Hag’s phrasing; instrumentally, they’re virtually identical.

There are two versions of this number floating around, thanks to the inadvertent release of an alternate take on a 1990 compilation. I’ve linked to the original, which was a No. 5 single and the track that kicked off  the album Swinging Doors and The Bottle Let Me Down. See the comment from Ken Johnson below for the story of the (unfortunately prevalent) alternate take, which differs from the original master largely in the mix and in Hag’s phrasing. Instrumentally, they’re virtually identical.

And stellar instrumental work it was. Ralph Mooney, so crucial to the sound of Buck Owens’ earliest Capitiol sides and later in support of Waylon Jennings, nailed it on the steel. The lead guitar part has to be from Merle’s longtime axeman Roy Nichols, right? Wrong — it’s Phil Baugh, who was keeping Nichols’ Telecaster-slinging seat warm for a short while at the time this was cut at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood in late ’65. Harmonies came from Bonnie Owens (a k a Mrs. Merle Haggard) and rhythm guitarist Billy Mize. Nothin’ but the honey, as Eddie Stubbs would say.

“Swinging Doors” is a fine record, on a fine album – whose other title track (“The Bottle Let Me Down”) you’ll recall was also on my list of great drinking songs. There are ballads, a couple of novelty songs and one of my favorite Hag album cuts, “This Town’s Not Big Enough.” If you like today’s song and don’t know much about Merle Haggard’s early work, check out his first two Capitol albums, Strangers and Swinging Doors and The Bottle Let Me Down, paired on a single CD and available from Amazon.com and other outlets.

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