After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, country music artists poured their hearts and souls into reacting to the devastating events with song. Alan Jackson responded with quiet reflection in "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" and Toby Keith reflected the anger of some Americans with "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)." Darryl Worley took longer to reflect on 9/11 before writing a song, but when he did, he wrote the powerful "Have You Forgotten?"
The tune, officially released on Dreamworks Records in March 2003, was inspired by a tour Worley took in Afghanistan, during which he performed for American troops. After his tour, Worley came home inspired to do more for the troops, and he was encouraged to see streets lined with American flags. However, that encouragement soon disappeared, when, two weeks later, the flags had been taken down. The feeling that people were slowly forgetting about 9/11, combined with a conversation Worley had with a man who talked negatively of the USA's response to the attacks, inspired him and Nashville songwriter Wynn Varble to write the tune.
"I told Wynn that," Worley told The Boot of his conversation with the man. "[Wynn] says to me, 'I talked to a guy yesterday, and he was spewing that same crap.' He said, 'I just wanted to grab him by the throat and say, 'Have you forgotten?'"
"He said that, and I went, 'Dude. That's the song title. That's the question we need to ask,'" continued Worley.
"Have you forgotten how it felt that day / To see your homeland under fire and her people blown away / Have you forgotten when those towers fell / We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell / And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden / Have you forgotten," Worley sings in the emotionally-charged chorus.
Worley added that it only took him and Varble two hours to complete the song. Soon after writing it, Worley debuted "Have You Forgotten?" at the Grand Ole Opry on January 10, 2003, a move that went against his manager's advice.
"You can't go out there and try to play that tonight," Worley recalled of his manager to The Tennessean. "I was like, 'This is three chords and the truth. This is what these guys do. If you don't want to hear it, you might want to go somewhere else.'"
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Worley's performance of the song earned an enthusiastic response from the crowd, and Worley was invited back to perform the song the next night for the televised show. This performance exposed the entire country to the tune, and country fans soon started requesting that it be played on their local radio stations, despite the fact that it had yet to be recorded. Some stations played the live Opry performance of the song, and in March 2003, Worley officially released the recorded version.
Although "Have You Forgotten?" was written and debuted in January, the official single release coincided the United States' invasion of Iraq, which led some to believe the song was promoting the Iraq war. The Los Angeles Times called the song "pro-war call to action" and the Chicago Tribune said the song "reads like a Bush position paper for entering Iraq," but Worley maintains that the song was not meant to promote the war.
"To me, the song is not necessarily pro-war. That's not the reason we wrote the song," Worley told CNN's Lou Dobbs in 2003. "The song is pro-America. It's pro -- it's pro-military. But I don't necessarily think that it's a pro-war song."
Despite the debate about the song's deeper meaning, it was a hit with country music fans, spending seven weeks atop the Billboard country chart and becoming Worley's biggest hit on country radio. The song followed his first hit, "I Miss My Friend," and only one other single, 2004's "Awful, Beautiful Life," was able to reach the No. 1 spot in Worley's career.
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