Singer Dolly Parton attends an RCA party after a concert in San Francisco, California
Singer Dolly Parton attends an RCA party after a concert in San Francisco, California. (Photo by © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images)

Dolly Parton Shared Her Life Story With 'In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)'


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The title track off Dolly Parton's third solo album, 1969's In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad) (RCA Victor), avoids empty nostalgia. Instead of longing for an exaggerated take on the past, Parton wrote about looking back realistically while acknowledging a need to move forward.

An Autobiographical Statement

Parton learned to give back by growing up dirt poor. The fourth of 12 children, she truly lived the lyrics "anything at all was more than we had" and "we've gone to bed hungry many nights in the past." Beyond making her want to help children and the elderly, Parton's early-life circumstances made her headstrong enough to see her musical and charitable goals through.

Instead of looking at the past through rose-tinted (and rhinestone-encrusted, considering it's Dolly) glasses, she realistically weighs the positives and negatives of a wholesome and meager upbringing. Such perspectives fuel her efforts to make East Tennessee a better place for her neighbors. This song's hook sums up this realistic view of the past as a springboard to a much better present: "No amount of money could buy from me/ The memories I have of then. No amount of money could pay me/ To go back and live through it again."

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Sometimes Covered, Never Duplicated

While it didn't become a decade-defining hit, the song popped up on different artists' albums over the years. A few months before Parton cut the self-penned song, Merle Haggard and The Strangers recorded it first for the iconic Mama Tried album. A slower tempo version appears on Parton's 1973 concept album My Tennessee Mountain Home, along with the title song, "Daddy's Working Boots," and other similarly-themed tracks. Sister Stella Parton, Skeeter Davis, and others went on to cover the song--although no one ever sang it with the same conviction as its writer.

A Classic Dolly Solo Album

As for the Bob Ferguson-produced album bearing the song's title, it's more than just another case of a classic single paired with a handful of forgettable cover songs. Instead, Parton's takes on the Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman co-write turned Tammy Wynette classic "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," Jeannie C. Riley's Tom T. Hall-penned hit "Harper Valley PTA" and Porter Wagoner's "The Carroll County Accident" tease her future greatness. Beyond the covers and a contemporary classic, opening track "Fresh Out of Forgiveness" made enough of a mark to be covered by Rhiannon Giddens for her Tomorrow is My Turn album. Throw in the humor of "He's a Go Getter," the underrated honky-tonk vibes of "Mama, Say a Prayer," John D. Loudermilk composition "It's My Time" and the sense of wonder captured in "Little Bird," and you've got a classic Parton album.

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To sum up the song's greatness, it serves as an elevator speech for Parton. It tells a rags to riches story of someone with the generous heart to fight poverty on behalf of the people of Tennessee.

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'In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)' Lyrics:

We'd get up before sun-up to get the work done up
We'd work in the fields till the sun had gone down
We've stood and we've cried as we have bristly watched
A hailstorm a' beatin' our crops to the ground
We've gone to bed hungry many nights in the past
In the good old days when times were bad
No amount of money could buy from me
The memories that I have of then
No amount of money could pay me
To go back and live through it againI've seen daddy's hands break open and bleed
And I've seen him work till he's stiff as a board
An' I've seen momma layin' in suffer and sickness
In need of a doctor we couldn't afford
Anything at all was more than we had
In the good old days when times were badWe've got up before and found ice on the floor
Where the wind would blow snow through the cracks in the wall

And I've walked many miles to an old country school
With my luch in the bib of my overalls

Anything at all was more than we had

In the good old days when times were bad

No amount of money could buy from me
The memories that I have of then
No amount of money could pay me
To go back and live through it again

In the good old days when times were bad
In the good old days when times were bad

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