When Wanda Jackson kept her writing appointment with Angaleena Presley despite having taken a tumble and scoring a black eye as a souvenir, she did something that American women – on strike Wednesday across the country and worldwide as part of A Day Without a Woman – do all their lives. And that’s to persist when others would falter, often despite unfair wages, unequal rights and a culture that penalizes them for motherhood. The resulting song, which will appear on Presley’s forthcoming LP Wrangled, is a swanky rockabilly-tinged ode to taking no shit and plenty of chances, all propelled by a drumbeat that’s the sound of expectations being squashed to bits. Titled “Good Girl Down,” it’s Presley’s own battle cry for surviving and triumphing over Music Row – with lyrics that could easily be hoisted high on protest placards. (Listen to the premiere below.)
“When I told Wanda that we could reschedule and asked her why in the world she’d shown up, she looked me right in the soul and said with confidence, ‘Ha! You can’t get a good girl down,'” Presley tells Rolling Stone Country about the song, which they co-wrote with Vanessa Olivarez. “I felt instantly and deeply connected to her. Show-must-go-on moments are a true test of strength and women seem to have some innate ability to rock them. We nurse sick babies and friends and husbands and wives even when we’re sicker than they are. We nurture and we survive. We’re not afraid to cry and we’re not afraid to kick some ass.”
Appearing on Wrangled, the follow-up to Presley’s 2015 solo debut American Middle Class, “Good Girl Down” is one of the album’s 12 songs that spells out the struggle – and the joy – that comes along with trying to pave her way in a industry that mounts roadblock after roadblock for women, particularly those that don’t fill a predictable, friendly mold. “It’s a man’s world, and I’m a lady,” Presley sings on “Good Girl Down” in a delicious snarl, “and they’ll never appreciate me.” From Jackson’s early fights to preserve her sound – and her look – in a cookie-cutter world to today’s struggle for equal presence on the radio, it’s a battle that endures. And one for which women are born into basic training, ready to roar and rumble.
“I don’t fit the mold and I make no attempt to conform”
“As we wrote the song, Wanda talked about her experience as a young artist in Nashville who didn’t fit the formula,” Presley recalls. “She had an edge. She shimmied. She growled. She shined in dresses – handmade by her mother – that were deemed provocative. She had her own style and it scared the wits out of Music Row. She might as well have been telling my story. Unfortunately, Music Row hasn’t changed that much since Wanda first appeared on the scene. I don’t shimmy or growl because I’m not as cool as she is. However, I do write and perform songs that make people uncomfortable. I don’t fit the mold and I make no attempt to conform. My goal is to open doors for people to talk about imperfection.”
From “Dreams Don’t Come True,” the album’s opener that reunites her with Pistol Annies band mates Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe to “Country,” featuring rapper Yelawolf, that rattles off the genre’s most prevalent and ridiculous tropes in a “We Didn’t Start the Fire”- style skewering, Wrangled doesn’t try to be polite. Out April 21st on Mining Light/Thirty Tigers and co-produced by Presley with Oran Thornton (Eric Church, David Nail), it instead shows the honest experience of a Nashville woman who could have buttoned up, smiled pretty and sang songs about kissing boys – but would sooner opt to tell radio to kiss her own ass before conforming to expectations.
Unlike much of the country music mainstream who have been reluctant to speak out in the current political climate, Presley proudly participated in the Women’s March on January 21st and will strike tomorrow on International Women’s Day – “striking up songs of protest, hope and girl power alongside Amy Ray, [whose] badassery on such matters is unprecedented,” she says. Presley will perform with the Indigo Girls singer on Wednesday evening at Nashville’s 3rd& Lindsley.
“I’ll never forget rounding the corner where an African-American woman was shouting, ‘This is what democracy looks like!'” Presley recalls of her experience marching in Nashville. “We began shouting it with her and, for the first time in my life, I understood that freedom is a luxury. I believe in love, kindness and equal rights. I’ll continue to march and continue to write songs from the perspective of a straight, white, Christian, country girl who knows that tolerance, openness and honesty can mend just about anything that’s ailing you.”
The resulting songs might not always make country radio, but you can’t get a girl good down – especially when she’s singing for all women, not just a select few.