Tammy Wynette’s signature number, “Stand By Your Man,” was an anti-anthem. If “Okie from Muskogee” was Merle Haggard’s line in the sand towards the hippie movement, “Stand By Your Man” was aimed directly at Women’s Libbers and feminists. Yet the song was somewhat misunderstood by its critics; it’s simply a reaffirmation of her love for her man, and isn’t about capitulation or subservience. It would later be controversially referenced by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, who would declare that she’s not the type of woman who’s going to stay home and stand by her man like Tammy Wynette, Though the song would cast a shadow over the rest of her life, Wynette didn’t wish to build her career on that one high point. This twofer, featuring her 1970 album, The First Lady, and its 1971 follow-up, We Sure Can Love Each Other, proves otherwise.
Possessor of a delicate voice, Wynette had the uncanny ability to make already maudlin lyrics become positively depressing, with her typical fare being songs about love (“Have A Little Faith.” “True and Lasting Love,” “The Only Thing”) heartbreak (“Longing To Hold You Again,” “Run, Woman, Run”), womanhood (“The Joy Of Being A Woman,” “He’s Still My Man”), the impact of divorce and single-parenthood on children( “Buy Me A Daddy,” “My Daddy Doll” “I Wish I Had A Mommy Like You” ), and, yes, sending by her man (“Bring Him Safely To Me,” “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” “If You Think I Love You Now”). Melodically, her producer, the late Billy Sherrill, invested in an economy of sound, lush but understated mid-tempo and ballads with tasteful orchestration, pedal steel, and background singers, creating a lovely countrypolitan sound that is easy on the ears, even as it can deliver some very heart wrenching lyrics.
But the key track of this set is “Don’t Liberate Me (Love Me),” where she directly addresses her critics, describing a time she was confronted by feminists, who laugh her off because she states she is liberated by the power of her husband’s love for her. She is steadfast in her belief—and though not dismissive of their beliefs, she sings, “There is more than one difference between a woman and a man, and I believe that’s the way God meant it to be.” That’s a powerful statement, especially for 1971, as she was going through her own struggles with her then-husband, George Jones, who was going through his personal hell of alcoholism and drug addiction.
In her own special way, Wynette, the seemingly anti-Women’s Libber, turned out to produce some of the most feminist, women-positive songs of the era. It’s just too bad that her critics couldn’t see it that way because of that hit of hers. Their loss, as these two records are fine examples of her talents as a singer, storyteller, and role model for women.
Categories: Album Reviews