Introduction:

In 1982, country music legend Merle Haggard released a song that would become an anthem for those who crave the peace and freedom of rural life. “Big City” is a poignant ballad that tells the story of a man disillusioned by the hustle and bustle of city life, longing for the simpler times spent back home. The song, co-written by Haggard and Dean Holloway, became a cornerstone of Haggard’s signature sound, the Bakersfield sound, characterized by its Bakersfield, California roots. This sound is known for its twangy electric guitars, prominent pedal steel guitar, and a strong rhythm section, all underpinned by Haggard’s unmistakable baritone vocals.

“Big City” was released on Haggard’s 1981 album of the same name, his debut project for Epic Records after a long run with MCA. The album, produced by Lewis Talley, reached number three on the Billboard Country Albums chart and number 161 on the Pop Albums chart, achieving gold certification by the RIAA. However, it was the title track, “Big City”, that became the album’s biggest hit. The song resonated with audiences, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and staying there for two weeks.

Haggard, a native of Oklahoma, was no stranger to the allure of the city. He had moved to California in the 1950s to pursue a career in country music, finding early success in Bakersfield. However, the song suggests that the city’s initial excitement eventually gave way to a sense of alienation and disconnection. “Big City” became a powerful expression of Haggard’s own experiences, capturing the yearning for open spaces and a simpler way of life.

The song’s enduring popularity lies in its relatable themes. “Big City” speaks to a universal human experience – the tension between the pursuit of opportunity and the comfort of familiarity. For many listeners, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era or a simpler time in their own lives. “Big City” cemented Haggard’s status as a country music icon and continues to resonate with listeners today, both those who have personally experienced the disillusionment of city life and those who simply find solace in the imagery of wide-open spaces and rural living.

Video:

Lyrics:

I’m tired of this dirty old city
Entirely too much work and never enough play
And I’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks
Think I’ll walk off my steady job today

Turn me loose, set me free
Somewhere in the middle of Montana
And give me all I’ve got comin’ to me
And keep your retirement
And your so called social security
Big city, turn me loose and set me free

Been working everyday since I was twenty
Haven’t got a thing to show for anything I’ve done
There’s folks who never work and they’ve got plenty
Think it’s time some guys like me had some fun

So, turn me loose, set me free
Somewhere in the middle of Montana
And give me all I’ve got comin’ to me
And keep your retirement
And your so called social security
Big city, turn me loose and set me free
Hey big city, turn me loose and set me free