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Story Behind the Song: The Judds' 'Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)' Longs For Simpler Times

Wynonna Judd, left, and her mother, Naomi, perform during the Country Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Oct. 9, 1989. The Judds took home the award for duo of the year. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

There's no shortage of retro entertainment that glorifies the 1950s, from Happy Days to Sha Na Na. At times, country music has followed that lead and honed in on how our sped up (and perhaps dumbed down) society has lost some of the charm we associate with the Eisenhower administration.

The greatest of these songs, The Judds' "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)," says nothing about any specific decade. That works, considering the grandchild narrator probably doesn't know the difference between the 10-year spans associated with the Great Depression, World War II and the years when Webb Pierce, Hank Williams and other honky-tonk singers ruled the charts. Be that as it may, the narrator's assumptions about lost family values line up with what made the '50s an ideal time travel destination for Ronnie Milsap ("Lost in the Fifties (In the Still of the Night)") and Randy Travis (with a song actually from the '50s, "It's Just a Matter of Time").

Jamie O'Hara, the writer of Ronnie McDowell's "Older Women" (ones over 50, we can assume) and a member of singer-songwriter duo The O'Kanes with Kieran Kane, wrote "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)." In 1986, mother-daughter duo The Judds turned the sentimental song into their sixth No. 1 hit since the 1984 release of "Mama He's Crazy."

It was one of four No. 1 hits off the album Rockin' With the Rhythm and the sixth of eight straight non-holiday singles to reach No. 1. That run ended when Naomi and Wynonna Judd unquestionably celebrated the '50s with a cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" (a top 10 entry in its own right).

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While we're talking about the '50s, it's worth noting that before The Judds started cranking out hit country songs at a pace on par with Alabama, only one duo of women had ever topped the Billboard charts. The Davis Sisters, featuring Skeeter Davis and Betty Jack Davis (no relation), were briefly the toast of Nashville when "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" reached No. 1 in the halcyon year of 1953.

As for the song itself, our '50s assumption works because that's when the whole concept of the nuclear, all-American family became idealized for future generations. Assumptions about a breadwinning father, stay-at-home mom and a quiver full of children point to those post-war years. This family scenario may fuel the narrator's belief that in simpler times, families prayed together and stayed together.

In short, nostalgia sells, and some of the all-time great country acts have been its best salespersons, whether Dolly Parton's taking us all back to her East Tennessee upbringing or Reba McEntire's adding to the chart history of Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams." The Judds followed suit with this innocent take on the good ole days, and in the process, they added to their playlist of well-aged hits.

"Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)" Lyrics

Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days
Sometimes it feels like this world's gone crazy
And Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
When the line between right and wrong
Didn't seem so hazy

Did lovers really fall in love to stay
And stand beside each other, come what may?
Was a promise really something people kept
Not just something they would say and then forget
Did families really bow their heads to pray
Did daddies really never go away?
Oh, Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days

Grandpa, everything is changing fast
We call it progress, but I just don't know
And Grandpa, let's wander back into the past
And paint me the picture of long ago

Did lovers really fall in love to stay
And stand beside each other, come what may?
Was a promise really something people kept
Not just something they would say and then forget
Did families really bow their heads to pray
Did daddies really never go away?
Oh, Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days
Oh, Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days

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Story Behind the Song: The Judds' 'Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)' Longs For Simpler Times