On December 10, 1966, one of country music’s most enduring heroes, Merle Haggard, achieved his first No.1 on the Billboard country album chart – before he ever appeared on the pop listings – with the Capitol release Swinging Doors.
The disc is listed in chart books and elsewhere as what looks like a double release with The Bottle Let Me Down, because that famous hit song of Merle’s is also on the LP and prominently displayed on the cover. Both of these Haggard compositions were country singles chart successes, “Swinging Doors” reaching No.5 and “Bottle” No.3. His first substantial country hit, “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” had been released in November 1964, and reached No.10.
Released when Merle was 29, the Swinging Doors album was his second studio release with his band the Strangers, following the set called simply Strangers (inspired by that first sizeable hit) which made No.9 on the country chart towards the end of 1965. In between times, “The Hag,” or just “Hag” as he was lovingly known, released a duet album with Bonnie Owens, Just Between The Two Of Us, which made No.4.
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The title track and opening song from Swinging Doors sets the scene for the album and epitomizes Haggard’s persona as the lonesome stranger: often sitting in a bar, usually drinking to forget and almost always the outsider in love and life. “I’ve got everything it takes to lose my mind,” he sings about his new home. “Thanks to you, I’m always here till closing time.” “The Bottle Let Me Down” is another brilliant and enduring song in which, this time, Merle can’t forget his troubles just by staring at the bottom of a glass.
The album took over at the top of the country chart from the last of Connie Smith’s three No.1 albums, Born To Sing, and reigned for two weeks.