Tracy Lawrence's 1996 single "Time Marches On" is a classic tune that portrays the impermanence of life by singing about one family in different life phases. In the first verse, the daughter is an infant in her "baby bed," the son is a little boy, the mother is learning to sew and the dad is drinking a beer and listening to the radio. The song doesn't just mark the happy times in the family's life, however. In the second verse, the children are now teenagers and the father is cheating on the mother, who is now depressed.
Then, in the third verse, the children are in their old age (the sister calls herself a "sexy grandma" and the son has high cholesterol), the mother has dementia, and the father has been laid to rest under the maple tree. The song also uses cultural references to show the passage of time, such as Hank Williams ("singing 'Kaw-Liga' and 'Dear John'") and Bob Dylan ("Bob Dylan sings like a Rolling Stone"). Hank Williams comes up again in reference to the father's death ("As the angels sing an old Hank Williams song.") At the end of every verse, Lawrence repeats the phrase, "Time Marches On." And in the chorus, he sings even more about the way life moves on.
"The South moves North, the North moves South / A star is born, a star burns out / The only thing that stays the same is / Everything changes, everything changes," he sings.
Listening to the song's lyrics, it's a bittersweet, almost sad story about how life moves quickly and how we must try to appreciate every second of it. Although the words are bittersweet, they are paired with an uptempo beat. The song was written solely by famed Nashville songwriter Bobby Braddock, and he told The Tennessean that it was inspired by real-life observations.
"It was just a culmination of a lot of different things that started to come together," said Braddock. "I would go down to my little hometown in Florida and I noticed that the people who were middle-aged were gone. My younger teachers were then middle-aged or late middle-aged, and I've always been interested in time and physics and the 'what-ifs' of life. And I just got the idea of writing a song about this family that just spends their whole lifetime in about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and put some things in there that we're not supposed to put in country songs, like dementia."
As for the constant beat of the song, Braddock had a specific idea in mind when he crafted that beat, which also contributes to the story of the song.
"I kinda wanted to write it where it felt like it was to the rhythm of a clock, ya know, tick tock, tick tock," he said.
The song was the title track of Lawrence's "Time Marches On" album and went on to become a hit for the country music artist, spending three weeks atop the Billboard Country chart.
The single's official music video shows Lawrence performing the song in front of an audience. The song followed hits such as "Sticks and Stones," "Today's Lonely Fool," "Alibis," "If The Good Die Young," "I See It Now," "Texas Tornado," and more. "Time Marches On" was immediately followed up by "Stars Over Texas," and later, "Is That A Tear," "How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye," and others.