"Coming Home": How Keith Urban’s conspiring to give the late Merle Haggard his first #1 since the 80s

ABC/Mark Levine

If Keith Urban's top-five hit "Coming Home" makes it to the top of the chart, it'll be the first #1 for the late Merle Haggard since 1987's "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star."

The latest single from Graffiti U was inspired by Merle's 1968 classic, "Mama Tried," and includes the song's signature guitar lick in its intro. 

Merle passed away two years ago and for Keith, it was important to have the seal of approval of his widow, Theresa. "I called her up and said, 'I've written this song that was inspired by "Mama Tried," and we ended up using a piece of the sample from the original recording," the Aussie superstar says. "So it means Merle will be a writer on this song. But I'd love you guys to like it.'"

"'If you love the song and give it its blessing,'" he recalls, "'that would mean the world to me, because I have a lot of reverence for Merle.'"

Both Theresa and Haggard's son, Ben, ultimately agreed and were happy for Keith to honor Merle.  Keith confesses he had multiple motivations for wanting to release "Coming Home."

"That's not something I do gratuitously," he clarifies. "It's something I wanted to be able to do for many reasons. One was because I got to write with Merle Haggard," he laughs. "That's fantastic!"

The other has to do with expanding the legend's legacy.

"There will be a lot of people outside of our genre that will go and find out who Merle Haggard is," Keith tells ABC Radio. "They'll wanna go hear 'Mama Tried,' and that can open up that to a whole lot of people who've never heard him before. Samples can do that in songs. So it was just a win/win across the board."

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