Long before Carrie Underwood was singing about taking a Louisville slugger to a dude’s headlights and Miranda Lambert was wailing about a special delivery of gunpowder and lead, Loretta Lynn was raising a ruckus with her own defiant lyrics. And she wasn’t just warning a tomcatting husband with songs like “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” either. The Country Music Hall of Fame member was also putting ambitious ladies in their place with “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” — as well as empowering them in the controversial birth-control anthem “The Pill.” While Lynn didn’t write all of her lyrics, she sure delivered them like she did. In celebration of the still-touring singer’s 83rd birthday today, we count down her 13 most daring, damning and gutsy lines.
"Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find/'Cause if you want that kind of love, well, you don't need none of mine/So don't come home a-drinkin' with lovin' on your mind"
Lynn has always been a feminist icon, consistently standing up for her own self-worth, and never more so than on this 1966 ultimatum that became her first Number One country hit. "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin'" speaks up for women sick of being taken for granted by their tomcatting men — and hubby's drunken late-night amorousness is only making things worse. So here is her line in the bedsheet: Treat me right or treat me as gone. Mary J. Blige couldn't have said it better.
"Well-a that fire water that a you've been drinkin'/Makes you feel bigger but chief you're shrinkin'/Since you've been on that love makin' diet"
The narrator's pet name is "Squaw" in this 1969 fighter, which — politically incorrect or not — uses Native American imagery to tell the story of a woman and her womanizing husband who comes home drunk to find his sexual advances met with threats. The cover of Lynn's 1969 album of the same name depicts her in Native American clothing, holding a lethal weapon in her right hand and holding her left hand over her head, as if shielding her eyes from the sun so that she can better hunt her prey.
“Somebody, somewhere don’t know what he’s missin’ tonight/Lord, here sits a woman, just lonesome enough to be right”
Or at least Miss Right Now. “Somebody, Somewhere” is as vulnerable as Lynn has ever allowed herself to sound, offering a look beneath the tough exterior. Let down by the bottle and late-night television, she throws a solo pity party with depths so dire that being loved and left doesn’t sound so bad — as long as she doesn’t have to face the rest of the night alone. So, she says, come and get me. Country radio responded to her booty call, taking the song straight to Number One in 1976.
“Yeah, I got caught, but honey, you’re a pro/There’s not a thing about cheatin’ you don’t know/That same old line you sell is the same old line I bought/The thing you’ve got away with, I got caught”
Hey, pot, don’t you dare call this kettle black. When the protagonist of 1967’s “I Got Caught” gets busted for cheating, she offers no apologies and instead turns around and busts her man for doing the same. In fact, she fell for the same kind of pickup lines her philandering beau was using on other women. The only thing different is she actually feels remorse: “I’m so ashamed I’d die if I could,” she admits, but not before setting the record straight.
"The girls in New York City they all march for women's lib/And Better Homes and Gardens shows the modern way to live/And the pill may change the world tomorrow but meanwhile today/Here in Topeka the flies are a buzzin', the dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin'"
Four years before she sang about "The Pill," "One's on the Way" was a portrait of what happens when you don't have the aid or freedom of effective birth control — namely, lots of kids. Written by Shel Silverstein, the song shines a light on how many women were really living outside of the opposing poles of protesting feminists and Betty Draper-perfect housewives in 1971: They were scrubbing floors and hoping that they don't get knocked up again. After all, Lynn had four children by the time she was 20, so she knew a thing or two about high-octane parenting, but she also understood the glamorous life the song both pines after and pokes fun at. There's silliness and sorrow in both.
"This here country is a little green and there's a lotta country that you ain’t seen/I'll show you around if you'll show me a wedding band, I said a wedding band"
Given all the iconic rural signifiers in the lyrics — country ham, talkin' slow, runnin' barefoot through cornfields and such — it's easy to miss the underlying point of 1970's "You're Lookin' at Country." It's been turned into another autobiographical statement of purpose for Lynn, but the lines above seem like it's more of a backhanded marriage proposal. Or at least, as close to one as a coal miner's daughter circa 1970 could make. Now that's bold. Thank God she's a country girl.
"Well goodbye tubs and clothes lines, goodbye pots and pans/I'm a gonna take a Greyhound bus as further as I can/I ain't a gonna wash no windows and I ain't a gonna scrub no floors/And when you realize I'm gone, I'm a gonna hear you roar"
Given "Hey Loretta" was also penned by Shel Silverstein, you might call it the redemptive sequel to "One's on the Way." This 1973 track has a beat as fast as the Greyhound bus taking Lynn away from a home where she's treated more like maid than Mom. Her paycheck for doing laundry, scrubbing floors and milking cows is just "a little kiss about once a week," so she gives her man the big kiss-off. If she stays, he'll say he's sorry and buy her a new pair of overalls, but that pales in comparison to the "movie star" dress she plans to wear while finding herself another man. . . or men.
"I treat him like the man he is and when he needs me I'm there/He must not think that I'm so bad for he takes me everywhere/But if how much I love him tells how bad I am/Then you won't find any one any worse any where"
Lynn sang often about husband-snatchers and the lowdown, dirty scoundrels who leave their wife and kids at home for a tryst with a secret lover, but in this 1971 track off Coal Miner's Daughter, she flips the narrative, taking the point of view of the mistress who is woman enough to take a man. More than that, she nearly defends her — showing the internal battle and self-aware hatred felt by those who welcome cheatin' hearts, and why sometimes wrong does make a right. Or at least feels that way.
"You hung my wings upon your horns/And turned my halo into thorns/And turned me into a woman I can't stand"
These lyrics from Lynn's 1970 hit are loaded ones. Not only does she shuffle religious imagery into a song about a jerk wooing away her virginity, but she also makes one hell of a metaphor: Where, exactly, are those wings and that halo? Not on her back or her head. While Haight-Ashbury already had a Summer of Love, Nashville wasn't exactly following suit: except for Lynn, who was the country queen of the Sexual Revolution, making sure to also show that it's just not all fun and free loving. There's the body, but then there's also the heart – and the wounds that hit them both the hardest.
“You’re so contented but for me it’s all gone/And though I pretend, you just don’t turn me on/The body performs but the soul has no will/When the tingle becomes a chill”
It’s one thing to talk about what happens when the flame of love dies out — it’s another to expose the stark reality of what that means, physically, when stuck with a lover who fails to turn you on. Lynn exposes the taboo of fakin’ it in this 1976 song off the album of the same name, about a woman struggling to get through unsatisfying night after unsatisfying night between the sheets. It’s a troubling image, that wilted soul in an unwilling body — particularly considering her rocky but enduring marriage — but Lynn’s not afraid to conjure up discomfort in a pretty-sounding package.
"Women like you, they're a dime a dozen/You can buy 'em anywhere/For you to get to him, I'd have to move over/And I'm gonna stand right here/It'll be over my dead body so get out while you can/'Cause you ain't woman enough to take my man"
Queen Loretta sits down for a little heart-to-heart with the other woman and drops a little friendly advice: Back off before I have to open up a can o' whup-ass, and don't let the smile fool ya into thinkin' I won't. Switchblade-sharp, her delivery makes the lyrics come across as more promise than threat. One hopes her hapless rival took the better part of valor, but she and Loretta probably wound up visiting "Fist City" before it was all over.
“If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town/’Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground/I’m not a sayin’ my baby is a saint cause he ain’t/And that he won’t cat around with a kitty/I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City”
Not even Muhammad Ali could punch this hard. With just a few clever taunts that rival any pre-fight pearls ever spouted by “The Greatest,” Miss Loretta delivers a knockout blow to an amorous woman eyeing up her “baby” — who, as she admits, isn’t above a little foolin’ around. But heaven help any gal who tries to tempt him, ’cause there’s a genuine, hair-pullin’ cat fight awaiting her. Lynn released this contender of a single in 1967, a time when publicly calling a fellow female “trash” was the lowest of blows. Oh, snap.
"This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage/The clothes I'm wearing from now on won't take up so much yardage/Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills/Yeah, I'm making up for all those years since I've got the pill"
As feminist anthems go, 1975's "The Pill" is a doozy because it's as funny as it is cutting. Lynn sings as a protagonist who's fed up with getting knocked up, while her no-account husband is still out playing around. But mama's ready for a little better living through chemistry, so she scores some birth control, declares that it's his turn to watch the kids and steps out herself, accompanied by wah-wah guitar (the closest to funky the woman has ever sounded). Country radio programmers on their moral high horses kept it from hitting Number One, but it still reached the Top Five — and also became her biggest pop hit.