Loretta Lynn, country music legend and one of the most influential artists in 20th century American music, died today at age 90.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” Loretta’s family shared in a statement.
Hurricane Mills is Lynn’s property in Tennessee that has been her residence, as well as a popular tourist attraction, since she purchased it in the 1960s.
Most widely known for “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” about her upbringing in the tiny town of Butcher Holler, Kentucky, Lynn wrote and recorded songs that didn’t shy away from hard, and often controversial, truths. Her life story, rising from rural Kentucky to the Country Music Hall of Fame, is one of the most well-known in modern music history. She stands as a glowing example of how honesty, raw talent, hard work, and perseverance can pay off.
Lynn remained country to the core, Nashville’s beloved ‘honky tonk girl,’ even at the heights of her popular appeal. She recorded many hit singles, won awards, and yet her spirit and integrity – not to mention her voice – remained as recognizable at the heights of her popular appeal as in her humble beginnings in the early 1960s, when she was driving across the country with a car full of records, trying to get DJs and music professionals to listen to her songs.
Lynn never identified as a feminist, but she did cause a stir more than once with songs like “Rated X,” “One’s on the Way,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind),” and “The Pill,” all songs that and put women front and center. “I’m not a big fan of Women’s Liberation,” she wrote in her memoir, “but maybe it will help women stand up for the respect they’re due.”
Lynn’s catalog is filled with songs that are full of life and deliberately honesty – not to mention being of the sharpest songwriting in all of popular music. On the surface they may seem uncomplicated, but the lives and feelings of the people in her songs are infinitely complex. Her songs draw from real-life experiences, and that, she told NPR in 2004, is deliberate.
“I like real life, because that’s what we’re doing today. And I think that’s why people bought my records, because they’re living in this world. And so am I. So I see what’s going on, and I grab it.”
It’s impossible to highlight all her incredible songs, but below are 12 standout Loretta Lynn songs we’ll never forget.
A country song about the birth control pill and aimed at an audience long considered buttoned-up and highly conservative? A daring move…but that didn’t stop Loretta’s 1975 song from becoming a big hit and a statement for a generation. (And if you haven’t yet listened to the Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast episode about “The Pill,” which gives context around it being “banned” by country radio, today is a great day to dive in.)
“Fist City” is a song built around a threat of violence, where the protagonist tells another woman to stay away from her “man” or else she’ll “go to Fist City.” It was also, though, at the time of its release, a rare song with a strong female character and female point of view. This wasn’t a song written for men (though many liked it plenty), but one that gave voice to women and showed that they, too – like their male counterparts – could be strong and, if needed, stand up for themselves.
Van Lear Rose
One of the greatest ‘country music comeback’ albums of all time has to be Van Lear Rose, the 2004 album by Loretta Lynn (who was 72 at the time and produced by Jack White. The whole album is fantastic, and one of the standouts is the title track, another of Lynn’s autobiographical songs about her rich, rural past.
Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out
One of Loretta’s earliest duet partners was honky-tonk icon Ernest Tubb, a singer she’d admired for years. This song is a goofball tale of a marriage on the rocks, but that alone – a country song hinting at divorce – was still a relatively new topic for the genre.
Released in 1972, “Rated X” was a major hit for Loretta. The song is again from a female point of view, highlighting how when couples split up, the man often keeps his reputation intact while the woman does not and carries a whole new burden. “The women all look at you like you’re bad,” Loretta sings, “and the men all hope you are.”
You’re Looking at Country
A statement song of a different sort, one that could be read a number of ways, “You’re Looking at Country” was released in 1971 and wound up another hit for Loretta. “I had to write ‘You’re Lookin’ At Country’ as a love song or it wouldn’t sell”, Lynn says in the liner notes for the awesome 1994 box set Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection. “But it wasn’t a love song. I got the idea from looking at my land. I wanted to write what I saw”.
You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)
Like “Fist City,” this catchy song is another Loretta classic warning off other women who might be after her “man.” She allegedly wrote it after a real-life incident backstage at one of her concerts, where another woman was attempting to capture her husband’s attention.
The Other Woman
A cheating song from a female point of view, “The Other Woman” is about a couple who are both cheating…and so the blame of who did what first gets muddled, and the whole town is forming opinions on who is most to blame. It’s not exactly a feminist song, but Loretta does deliver a line that cuts through all the finger-pointing, asking of the town gossips: “who are they to judge who’s wrong or right.”
One’s on the Way
Written by Shel Silverstein and released in 1971, “One’s on the Way” takes a lightly good-natured approach to how many women have felt as overburdened (and underappreciated) mothers and wives.
I’m a Honky Tonk Girl
Loretta’s very first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” was released on the tiny California label Zero in 1960. It’s a relatively simple song, but in it you can hear her strong voice cutting across the melody and demanding attention.
Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’
“You thought I’d be waiting up when you came home last night,” Loretta sings at the start of this song, one of her best known. But alas, much to the “half tight” husband’s dismay, there’ll be no hanky panky tonight. “Liquor and love, they just don’t mix, leave the bottle or me behind,” she declares. Few country songs at the time (it was released in 1967) spoke so openly and plainly about sex, even among married couples, and even fewer were centered around a woman who was standing up for herself with the confidence to say “no.” The song wound up being Loretta’s first Number One hit.
Coal Miner’s Daughter
This is Loretta’s signature song, which won her numerous awards, rose to Number One, and eventually was turned into a hit feature film starring Sissy Spacek. More than 50 years later, it, like most of the songs in Lynn’s catalog, still stand up proudly and showcase one of the most powerful voices to ever grace country music.
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