Leader in the Outlaw Country movement and one of the first to nail the Bakersfield sound of the late 1950s, Merle Haggard is an American icon both in music and in attitude.
Released in 1981, his “Are the Good Times Really Over” points to the era before “microwaves” and “the Beatles and “Yesterday” that seemed bygone even when Haggard recorded the pivotal tune. The song has staying power, there’s no doubt about it. However, is it still applicable today, in a world that progressed technologically beyond what anyone could probably imagine even in the 1980s?
One could easily insert 21st-century phrasing into his classic hit, interchanging microwaves with iPhones, and girls who couldn’t cook then with girls that can’t socialize now. The Beatles and “Yesterday” could become Adele’s “Hello” with little trouble – after all, both songs speak to a nostalgic relationship, too. Cola still isn’t Cola, just as Merle sang, and now it’s hard to tell what media outlet is telling the truth, let alone President Nixon.
The good times, though, weren’t over for Merle then, and they certainly aren’t over for us, now. Times change and nostalgia is a rose-colored lens to view the past through, but each generation longed for the culture of the ones before it. That’s just the retrospective circle of life, and every single generation feels that itching for a Golden Age, a time where they could pinpoint that everything was right in the world.
The negative aspects of a ‘simpler’ time are brushed over and forgotten, while only the positive, seemingly easier memories reign supreme. It’s important to see that with the passing of time comes medical advancements that have extended our lifetimes, and the ability to consistently be in contact with those you love.
That last one may seem unimportant, but could you imagine waiting six months to find out if your loved one deployed is safe, or being able to FaceTime your family members across the globe?
So yes, Merle Haggard’s nostalgic anthem is still applicable today, but that’s not really saying too much. While “Are the Good Times Really Gone” is an ode to the past, it means something that his words are interchangeable, but the title of the song would still stay the same.