In 1968, country singer Tammy Wynette was on a hot streak that began two years earlier with “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” The first of her Number One singles, “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” topped the country chart in ’67, followed by “Take Me to Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and the song she would be most closely associated with during – and after – her lifetime, “Stand By Your Man.”
Although criticized by feminist organizations and endlessly defended by Wynette, the song was featured in a number of films, beginning with 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, starring Jack Nicholson, and including The Blues Brothers in 1980. In 1992, Hilary Clinton, then the wife of presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who was under fire for alleged extramarital affairs, referenced the lyrics when she asserted that she “wasn’t some little woman ‘standing by my man’ like Tammy Wynette.”
The singer and the future First Lady eventually cleared the air, and less than a year later the song resurfaced in a version sung by Lyle Lovett for the Academy Award-winning film, The Crying Game, which (spoiler alert!) earned actor Jaye Davidson a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a role in which he is discovered to be transgender.
In 1993, Lovett appeared on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, accompanied by Wynette for a performance of the song, which was featured on the film’s eclectic soundtrack.
“I didn’t ask her if I could record it,” Lovett told Leno as he and Wynette sat together on the talk show host’s couch. “I was a little bit nervous, because I always loved the song. I wanted to do a serious rendition of it because it was sort of odd for a man to sing that song. But I liked the idea of it, because the guy in the song she’s singing about is a jerk. He’s saying, ‘I know I’m kind of a jerk but love me anyway.'”
Wynette continued to defend the song, which she penned with longtime producer Billy Sherrill, telling Leno, “I have five girls and I would by no means write anything that would belittle my girls. I just thought it was a pretty love song when I wrote it, and I’d like for a man to say ‘stand by your woman.'”
Incidentally, Lovett’s version of the song wasn’t the first to be sung by a man. Exactly 25 years ago this week, the Tracey Ullman Show on FOX featured the song being performed by a gay character (played by Sam McMurray), whose teenage daughter (played by Ullman) is trying to cheer him up.