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40 #1 Hits ()

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With a title like 40 #1 Hits, it's easy to assume that the collection will contain nothing but number one hits, whether it's from the Billboard charts or Cash Box, and it's also easy to assume that it would contain all of an artist's number one hits. In the case of Merle Haggard's double-disc 2004 collection, neither is true. Using just the Billboard charts as a guide -- which is an assumption, since the liner notes do not specify which charts are used, but Billboard is the standard-bearer -- singles like "I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall" and "If We're Not Back in Love by Monday" did not top the charts, and singles like "What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana" that did reach number one are absent. Still, these are exceptions to the number one rule, three of only a handful on this collection. Besides, quibbling about whether tracks reached number one or not doesn't matter to the average audience, who will view 40 #1 Hits as an excellent cross section of Hag's biggest and best material, and the only compilation outside of the classic Down Every Road box set to draw from his three main record labels: Capitol, MCA, and Epic. Not all the great songs are here, but nearly every song here is great, from 1967's "Branded Man" to 1988's "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star." Razor & Tie's The Lonesome Fugitive remains the best compilation of Haggard at his peak and Down Every Road the most comprehensive set, but this occupies a middle ground between the two, offering a thorough overview of Merle's long career as a country hitmaker, and it's a terrific listen to boot. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi Hide synopsis

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