Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Classic Country Feminism

Latoya has inspired me to write about the feminism of Classic Country music.

Although country music is considered a conservative genre, there have always been women who challenged the status quo. The first on my list would be the amazing Wanda Jackson, properly known as the Queen of Rockabilly.

Wanda Jackson - Hard-headed Woman


If you saw the film Coal-Miner's Daughter, you know this song is the truth, and 13-year-old Loretta Webb started having babies almost immediately after her marriage to Doolittle Lynn (known as Mooney, for running moonshine). He cheated on her fairly openly, even once while she gave birth to one of their six children (four of these born before she was 18 years old). Loretta and Mooney fought in full view of everyone, usually with fists: "He never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice," Loretta was frequently quoted as saying.

This song, recorded as late as 1975, was nonetheless banned on country radio stations. The lyrics, by TD Bayless, are too good not to reproduce here:

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

All these years I've stayed at home
While you had all your fun
And every year thats gone by
Another baby's come
There's a gonna be some changes made
Right here on nursery hill
You've set this chicken your last time
Cause now I've got the pill

This old maternity dress I've got
Is goin in the garbage
The clothes I'm wearin from now on
Won't take up so much yardage

Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills
Yeah I'm makin up for all those years
Since I've got the pill

I'm tired of all your crowin
How you and your hens play
While holdin a couple in my arms
Another's on the way
This chicken's done tore up her nest
And I'm ready to make a deal
And ya can't afford to turn it down
Cause you know I've got the pill

This incubator is overused
Because you've kept it filled
The feelin good comes easy now
Since I've got the pill

It's gettin dark, it's roostin time
Tonight's too good to be real
Oh but daddy don't you worry none
Cause mama's got the pill

Oh daddy don't you worry none
Cause mama's got the pill

Loretta Lynn - The Pill


More true stories... the incendiary marriage of the late Tammy Wynette and George Jones was also quite legendary in country music. Although known for singing (and co-authoring) Stand by your Man, at one point, Tammy had enough standing by George. (In fact, she had five husbands in all.)

In this song, she warns him she is gonna go out and party just like the women he seems to prefer. (And she backed it up, too, publicly beginning a relationship with 70s icon Burt Reynolds.)

Tammy Wynette - Your Good Girl's gonna go bad


And the best for last! My mother sang this song in her band, and I can remember her rehearsing it when I was three or four years old; it was originally recorded in 1952 and has been recorded countless times since. The line, "It's a shame that all the blame is on us women" impacted me even as a child; it was the song that gave me my earliest heads-up. I listened carefully to the lessons given in the song, which also has the distinction of being the first Billboard #1 country song by a woman.

Kitty Wells recorded this song as an "answer song" to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life"--wherein Hank preaches self-righteously to the woman who left him:

I didn't know God made honky tonk angels
I might have known you'd never make a wife
You gave up the only one that ever loved you
And went back to the wild side of life

The glamour of the gay night life has lured you
To the places where the wine and liquor flow
Where you wait to be anybody's baby
And forget the truest love you'll ever know

Nashville-native Kitty Wells wasn't having any. These lyrics (by JD Miller) constitute her pointed reply to Hank. Most country-music historians agree that it was probably the first time a large number of women bought a record that their husbands didn't like, establishing a fan-base that they didn't even realize existed.

As I sit here tonight the jukebox playin
The tune about the wild side of life
As I listen to the words you are sayin
It brings memories when I was a trusting wife

It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they're still single
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

It's a shame that all the blame is on us women
It's not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that's ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame

It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they're still single
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

Kitty Wells - It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels

I hope yall enjoy these. They all mean a lot to me! (Cross posted at Feministe)