Good songs are perfect for a moment in your life, but great songs are timeless. Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over” is definitely the latter. Though it was written in 1982, it feels like the Okie from Muskogee is writing about America in 2021. That prescience, if not bolstered, is at least given its just due in his 2006 performance of the iconic tune.
Hank Williams Jr. sang Haggard’s hit at the 2006 Cracker Barrel Country Songs of the Year Concert. It was a simple, solemn performance. The crowd, filled with country music legends and executives who’ve been privy to some of the greatest shows in the genre’s history, were silent throughout. It’s rare to know when you’re seeing something special, and it’s an even rarer instinct to know to stay out of the way.
Williams crooned about feeling like a man born a generation too late. Americans had taken body after body blow in the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon had lied then resigned. Families had fewer dollars to make ends meet, and now that dollar didn’t stretch as far as it once did. And the little guy was the one being asked to accept and fix the problems caused by their wealthier brethren. This wasn’t the America we were promised.
“Are we rolling downhill / Like a snowball headed for Hell? With no kind of chance / For the Flag or the Liberty Bell,” Williams croons in the refrain.
Haggard’s version reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country Charts but has lasted for decades as a perennial favorite from the Outlaw Country pioneer.
When Williams finished up his version, the audience — returned to their new, less hopeful world — erupted in applause. Maybe there are still a few good times left out there.
Clay Walker Has Insanely Cool Story About Haggard, Jones
When Clay Walker was just an aspiring country music singer looking for his big break, he once found himself between two of the genre’s biggest talents at a bar. Walker watched as Merle Haggard and George Jones get into a heated debate while knocking back drinks. It was a tense situation, Walker recalled, and one that he thought could erupt at any minute.