Anyone who argues that Loretta Lynn doesn’t stand on the pedestal as the greatest woman ever in country music should be taken to fist city.
Lynn died Tuesday at 90.
Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline and other greats stand beside Lynn in the pantheon of women in country music, but Lynn stands the tallest for injecting unflinching womanhood into not just her songs but the genre.
Lynn practically created the country-woman-ready-to-fight country song that has been reproduced by the likes of Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson and many more to great success.
Lynn brought women’s concerns and feelings into her music while embodying country music’s holy trinity of themes — nostalgia, personal grit and relationships. In Lynn’s lyrics, women were wives, mothers and forlorn lovers, all classic country troupes. What Lynn added to country music was that the women in her songs were also fighters.
Three songs embody Lynn’s greatness — “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Fist City” and “The Pill.”
Many no doubt know Lynn from the 1980 biopic that took its name from her seminal song “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Lynn’s rose from abject rural poverty in Kentucky’s coal mining country to become the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1972. That showed her authenticity and provided a credential to be counted among the best women in country music.
But beyond the accolades accumulated over seven decades, her songs speak for themselves.
1969’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” reflected the nostalgia and personal grit that sustain country music to this day. Lynn’s ballad offered a real view and undeniable voice that hit country music in a time when it was fracturing between glittery countrypolitan and dusty Outlaws. With “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Lynn demonstrated she had a foot in both worlds and could manifest not just one section of country music but all of it.
“Fist City,” from 1968, opened the way for country music’s women to become fighters in their songs. More than being a song about a woman punching another for trying to take her man, it threw away the helpless, heartbroken woman so prominent in country music and replaced her with a woman who stood her ground.
1975’s “The Pill” was Lynn’s most direct social commentary, telling the story, with comic tinge, of a woman who spent years being pregnant, but was “tearin’ down your brooder house” and going out in “miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills” and “makin’ up for all those years” since she “got the pill.” Instead of twanging out political platitudes, she did what she did best — spoke from a country woman’s point of view with a catchy melody that seeped authenticity. Lynn reached her highest position on the pop music charts with “The Pill,” demonstrating the song resonated across audiences.
Lynn once quipped that to make it in the country music business, “you either have to be first, best, or different.”
Lynn was all three.