Merle Haggard: 30 Essential Songs

From the defiance of "The Fightin' Side of Me" to the melancholy of "If We Make It Through December"

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"Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)" (1982)

Haggard returned to the down-home values of "Okie From Muskogee" for this state-of-the-union ballad, which was named Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1982. In a way, it's the Hag's "get off my lawn" song, replete with gripes about lying presidents, the longevity of American-made cars and those newfangled microwave ovens — he'd win no points with feminists when he pined for a "girl who could still cook, still would." Just as outrageous was the later pro-pot Haggard's line about wishing a joint was still a "bad place to be." Ultimately, though, the then 45-year-old comes across as more cautionary sage than grumpy old man, warning about a U.S. that is headed straight to hell. It was a sentiment shared by gloom-and-doom politicians and talk-show hosts alike — late loudmouth Morton Downey Jr. would even cover the song. J.H.

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