On March 16th, 1970, Ray Price walked into Columbia Recording Studios on Nashville’s Music Row and recorded “For the Good Times,” a song that would return him to the top of the country charts after a nearly 11-year absence. The pinnacle was a spot Price had been well-acquainted with in the Fifties, logging 39 weeks at the top with just four singles, including the 1956 classic “Crazy Arms,” which accounted for 20 of those weeks. But for the man who had basically invented a style of playing honky-tonk music that would often be referred as the “Ray Price shuffle,” the Sixties found him experimenting with the “countrypolitan” Nashville Sound that made superstars of Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline. For Price, though, the time period was more of a mixed bag. He didn’t lack for hits, with “One More Time,” “Make the World Go Away,” and “Burning Memories” all reaching Number Two, but on that March day when he recorded one of the all-time saddest country songs, written by Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price revolutionized country music a second time.
By 1969, Kristofferson was an in-demand tunesmith with several songs recorded by other artists and was also recording his own albums for Monument Records. On September 25th, 1970, Janis Joplin recorded “Me and Bobby McGee,” which would top the pop chart shortly after Joplin’s death just over a week later. Six days before Joplin recorded “Me and Bobby McGee,” Ray Price’s version of “For the Good Times” was sitting at Number One on the country chart. Penned by Kristofferson in 1968 on his way from Nashville to the Gulf of Mexico, the song chronicled a true-life breakup he had recently experienced. “I felt more like he had made it a hit than the song had,” Kristofferson told CMT of Price in 2007. “[He] was one of the most respected singers among the serious musicians and serious songwriters in town.”
Although Columbia Records had first released the single’s other side, “Grazin’ in Greener Pastures,” to country radio, Price asserted that “For the Good Times” had greater hit potential. First recorded by Bill Nash in 1968, once singer Wayne Newton cut the song, the label began promoting the b-side. Price’s mournful yet elegant and commanding version of “For the Good Times,” replete with the lush string arrangements that would become a hallmark of much of the singer’s work at the time, would go on to sell more than 11 million copies. The song also gave Price his sole Top 40 pop hit on the Billboard Hot 100, making the future Country Music Hall of Fame member one of the most successful one-hit wonders of all time.
Just weeks after Price recorded it, “For the Good Times” appeared on Kristofferson’s eponymous debut LP for Monument Records alongside his versions of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (a later hit for Sammi Smith), “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” which would serve as the re-released album’s title after Joplin’s death.
Kristofferson’s live and televised performances at the time often made it clear how uncomfortable he was in the spotlight, especially with regard to his singing voice, which was savaged by critics even as his songs were earning rave reviews and numerous cuts across genres. The above clip is taken from a 1970 appearance on Boboquivari, a live music show that originated on Los Angeles public television station KCET and eventually aired nationwide through 1971. Kristofferson’s somber delivery throughout this performance is interrupted briefly in the first minute as he cracks a quick, bemused smile while singing the line, “There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning.”
“For the Good Times” reached Number 10 on the Easy Listening (now Adult Contemporary) chart and peaked at Number 11 on the Hot 100 as well. Kristofferson would pick up the Academy of Country Music’s Song of the Year for the tune and it earned a pair of ACMs, for Single and as title cut of their Album of the Year. The following March, Price — who shared a Grammy with Willie Nelson in 2008 — took home his only Grammy as a solo artist for his version of the song, which would become one of his signature tunes. Price died in 2013 at age 87.