In 1968, Tammy Wynette recorded one of her signature songs, the Bobby Braddock-Curly Putman classic, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Serving as the title tune from Wynette’s third solo LP, the single — as well as the album — topped the charts, and would prove prophetic as Wynette’s second husband, songwriter Don Chapel, filed for divorce from the singer in October 1968.
While Wynette’s subsequent albums, beginning with 1969’s Stand By Your Man, would often feature her songwriting efforts, D-I-V-O-R-C-E consisted of several contemporary cover songs, including an “answer” version to the Bobby Goldsboro crossover hit “Honey,” the John Hartford-penned Glen Campbell classic “Gentle on My Mind,” and Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde.” A standout from the LP, however, was the song that opened side two, just ahead of “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”
By 1968, the 1965 Beatles smash “Yesterday” (backed on the 45 by their version of the Buck Owens hit, “Act Naturally”) had been covered by hundreds of artists from all genres. Today, the BBC estimates there have been well over 2,000 additional versions of the poignant two-minute ballad penned by Paul McCartney, born 77 years ago today on June 18th, 1942. Few, however, have scaled the heights of heartache achieved by Tammy Wynette’s mournful rendition. With steel guitar and light, percussive piano accompaniment backing her, the Billy Sherrill-produced track allows Wynette to wring every ounce of drama and heartbreak out of the sad-yet-simple lyrics without ever drifting into mawkishness.
Wynette wasn’t, however, the first woman in country music to cover the song. In 1966, the same year Willie Nelson first covered it, Grand Ole Opry legend Jeannie Seely recorded a stunning version of the song backed mainly by acoustic guitar on her LP The Seely Style. In 1967, Wilma Burgess, whose best-known hit was “Misty Blue,” also cut it. In 1968 alone, other country artists who tackled the song included Ray Price, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Roy Drusky. To date, the one version that has entered Billboard’s country charts is Billie Jo Spears’ in 1979, which failed to reach the Top 40.