“I was the first one to write it like the women lived it,” living legend Loretta Lynn has said about her catalog, which features classics like “The Pill” and “Rated X,” a small sampling of her clearly bold, unapologetic songwriting prowess.
“Probably I was different in writing about things that nobody would even talk about in public. I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I thought, ‘Well, gee, this is what’s going on; I’ll write about it.’ I was writing about life. And, of course, I had a lot of songs banned.” Since her career began in the ’60s, this coal miner’s daughter has displayed a frankness to her ability to unravel stories about real problems, ripped directly out of the American Heartland. Her songbook spans topics from birth control to cheating to revenge to losing one’s virginity, but her legacy never faltered under the weight of commercial or critical appeal. Many times, her songs spoke on such a massive scale that (despite being banned on the airwaves) she became the voice for those women would couldn’t muster the strength themselves. “To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different,” she later revealed to The Washington Examiner of her career, which she continues to utilize to push the boundaries even further (as found on 2004’s outstanding Van Lear Rose).
Underneath the accolades and platinum records, you’ll find a down-home woman who has certainly been through her fair share of struggles. Her triumphs have carried her through the rain to get to the mountaintop, a dominant place many would only dream of obtaining. “After [my husband] got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup. I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’ I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.”
To celebrate her legacy, here are six of Loretta’s most controversial songs through the years.
“The Pill” (from 1975’s Back to the Country)
“From his pulpit, a preacher in West Liberty, Ky. recently denounced country singer Loretta Lynn and her new song The Pill. The effect was to send much of the congregation scurrying out to buy the record. More than 60 radio stations from Boston to Tulsa have banned the song, but through word of mouth and the FM underground The Pill is selling 15,000 copies a week,” reads a story in a March ’75 People magazine story. In “The Pill,” Loretta details her frustrations over her man getting her pregnant year after year, but then takes control over her own reproductive choices. “You wined me and dined me, when I was your girl. Promised if I’d be your wife, you’d show me the world. But all I’ve seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill. I’m tearin’ down your brooder house, ’cause now I’ve got the pill,” she sings on the first verse.
“Rated X” (from 1973’s Entertainer of the Year – Loretta)
“Divorce is the key to being loose and free, so you’re gonna be talked about,” she barbs on a song about divorce and the ridicule often placed on the woman, particularly in the ’70s (at the time it was released). Divorce is a common theme which threads throughout much of country music history, but coming from Loretta, it was surprisingly sharp and powerful. “Everybody knows that you’ve loved once so they think you’ll love again. You can’t have a male friend when you’re a has been or a woman you’re rated X. And if you’re rated X you’re some kind of goal every man might try to make.”
“Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (from 1966’s Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind)
As an adult woman singing adult country, Loretta’s personal life often overlapped with her material. Her husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, was known to be a heavy drinker, so taking on the role as a feisty narrator, Loretta taps into that anger, detailing a woman whose husband comes home every night drunk (and wants nothing but sex). “Well you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night. You’d been out with all the boys and you ended up half tight. But liquor and love that just don’t mix leave a bottle or me behind,” she declares.
“One’s on the Way” (from 1971’s One’s on the Way)
A stay-at-home mother mulls over her life (pregnant with another child) in a household already full of children. She even goes as far as comparing her life to those of Hollywood. “I’m glad that Raquel Welch just signed a million dollar pact. And Debbie [Reynolds]’s out in Vegas workin’ up a brand new act. While the TV’s showin’ Newlyweds a real fun game to play, but here in Topeka the screen door’s a bangin’. The coffee’s boilin’ over and the wash needs a hangin’. One wants a cookie and one wants a changin’ and one’s on the way,” she laments on the narrative. Despite the edge of sorrow in her voice, there’s an ounce of satisfaction (and even happiness) in her voice.
“Fist City” (from 1968’s Fist City)
Another song pulled from her relationship with her husband (when a woman pursues him while Loretta was touring Tennessee), the song sheds light on their often tumultuous marriage. In fact, Doolittle threw her out on more than on occasion; after one instance, Loretta found out he was seeing another woman. The best way to get revenge? Put the affair on full display in a song. Years later, in her 2000 autobiography “Still Woman Enough,“ she wrote, “I’ve been in a couple of fights in my life. I fight like a woman. I scratch and kick and bite and punch. Women are much meaner than men. So I warned any girl making eyes at Doo then, and I’m still jealous enough to warn ’em today—if you see this cute little old boy near me wearing his cowboy hat, you’d better walk a circle around us if you don’t want to go to Fist City.”
“Wings Upon Your Horns” (from 1970s Wings Upon Your Horns)
Loretta never backed down from telling the truth, especially on this song which uses religious imagery to frame a lost virginity. “Before you first made love to me, you called me your wife to be. And after that, I saw the devil in your eyes. With your sweet smooth talkin’ ways, you turned a flame into a blaze. Then, I’d’ve let you hang my wings upon your horns,” she recounts. “Don’t tell me that I’m no saint. I’m the first to know I ain’t. There’s a little thing called love and that’s what change me, from an innocent country girl to a woman of the world.”
Image Source: CMA