Country music legend Loretta Lynn has today died peacefully in her sleep, aged 90. Some of the many artists paying tribute to Loretta online included Dolly Parton, Carole King, Wynnona Judd, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Drive By Truckers, Waxahatchee and Valerie June. Her influence runs deeper than the well in Butcher Hollow from where she once drew water.
Loretta’s straight-talking spirit, absolute authenticity and often confrontational style has few parallels in country music, or any genre. She was an icon of individuality, and an irreplaceable loss.
Read on to find some of the best examples of songs which pay tribute to Loretta or which echo her work. Feel free to add any further suggestions to the comments or on social media and I will add them to a playlist.
Dolly Parton – My Tennessee Mountain Home
Back in the late sixties and early seventies Dolly and Loretta both dominated the country music charts. What set them apart from other women in country music (and pop music for that matter) was the fact that they both wrote many of their biggest hits.
Loretta’s signature song ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ was released in 1970 and became her fourth number one single. Unlike the bitching and fighting songs she had previously been known for, this was an autobiographical song, deeply rooted in place and love for where she came from. Here was what country music could be, should be – transforming the folk music tradition of honouring the past into a modern personal anthem.
Three years after this song became a number one hit Dolly Parton released her album ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’ which took a similar rose-tinted view of her tough rural upbringing. Before this song Dolly had written the satirical ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’ and her other songs rooted in place like ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’ were fictional stories. Loretta’s influence seems to have allowed Dolly to release an album that is a memoir of sorts, similarly celebrating where she came from with no apology for her poverty, only love for the family and community who raised her.
Dolly and Loretta’s careers would remain intertwined, with a friendship blossoming into the collaboration album ‘Honky Tonk Angels’, released in 1993, featuring a third legend Tammy Wynette.
Dolly has paid tribute to Loretta today writing, ‘she was a wonderful human being, wonderful talent, had millions of fans and I’m one of them. I miss her dearly as we all will.’ Amen.
Gretchen Wilson – Redneck Woman & A Little Loretta
One of the most overlooked women of country music is hell-raiser Gretchen Wilson who tore a page directly out of Loretta’s book with her hit ‘Redneck Woman’. Here we have a song similar to Loretta’s ‘You’re Lookin’ At Country’ in its defiant celebration of identity.
Reclaiming the ‘country’ label as a positive source of pride is now endemic across mainstream country music and Americana too – all of which can be traced back to Loretta.
In her most recent, independently released album Gretchen recorded a song called ‘A Little Loretta’. Here she channels Loretta’s hits like ‘Don’t Come Home a Drinkin…’ and ‘Your Squaw is on the Warpath’ to confront her drunken, cheating mess of a husband about his behaviour.
Gretchen has said of the song: ‘I’m not sure what was happening, but I told someone I was about to get ‘a little bit Loretta’ and I instantly knew that I had a song. It’s about those moments when you’re at your boiling point.’
Gretchen also previously recorded a version of ‘Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)’ on the 2010 album ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn’ which also featured mainstream country stars like Reba, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, alongside Americana legends Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle as well as the White Stripes and Kid Rock – showing the diversity of Loretta’s influence.
Paramore – Misery Business
Also featuring on that tribute album were Paramore, covering ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’. Now, at first, that surprised me but then when I thought about their biggest, most controversial hit ‘Misery Business’ it made perfect sense.
Reading through the lyrics the connection between these two songs became stunningly clear. Both address a girl who is trying to steal your man, both offer a rebuke that borders on the brutal. Hayley Williams even had to stop performing the song for a while and apologise for using the word ‘whore’ to describe the other woman.
Being an angry, vengeful bitch in a song is exactly what Loretta did so well. Of course she came from another era, where she didn’t have to worry about feminism, actually admitting she wasn’t a fan of ‘women’s liberation’ in her interviews.
What Loretta did do for the sisterhood was to set the example for other songwriters to write the unapologetic, unpretty truth about how women really feel – an influence which makes ‘Misery Business’ equally as compelling.
Carly Pearce featuring Patty Loveless – Dear Miss Loretta
Patty Loveless grew up in Kentucky, her father was a coal miner and she is a cousin of Loretta Lynn. Who better then to team up with Carly Pearce to record this tribute song to Loretta, released last year on the brilliant album ‘29: Written in Stone’. Written with Brandy Clark and Shane MacAnally the lyrics read:
I ain’t a coal miner’s daughter but I’ve sung it all my life
I ain’t been a widow but I’ve been an ex-wife
And I hear your truth and I feel your pain
Now I know why you sang that way.
Together they channel the sound of Loretta’s music and pay tribute to how Loretta spoke the truth about the suffering, struggle and strife of women’s lives.
Iris DeMent – Mama’s Opry
Another artist who has always cited Loretta as an influence is Iris DeMent. She loved listening to Loretta on the radio, after a childhood immersed in gospel music. Her mother too harboured dreams of becoming a country star and on the song ‘Mama’s Opry’ Iris tells her story. Like ‘A Coal Miner’s Daughter’ before her, bringing the history of your parents to life in a song makes for powerful and poignant listening.
What this song also underlines to me is how rare it was (and still is) for a young mother with no connections or money to become a country music star. There are so many potential Loretta Lynns out there, hanging out the washing, dreaming of stepping onto the stage, sacrificing their ambitions for their children.
You hope they listen to Loretta’s music and see the path to the music industry is possible.
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Album)
One such artist and mother is Margo Price whose album ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ has Loretta’s influence woven into its very core. Every song here can be traced back to Loretta, from the deeply personal ‘Hands of Time’, to the ‘Fist City’ style ‘About to Find Out’.
In a tribute to Loretta today, Margo wrote: ‘It’s safe to say I wouldn’t even be making country music today if it weren’t for Loretta Lynn. She showed me what it looked like to be a musician and a mama. Her writing was as real as the day is long and she didn’t take no shit. This one hurts on another level…I’ll miss her forever.’
Margo’s new memoir ‘Maybe We’ll Make It’ is out this week, and like her idol’s ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ it is certain to be a necessary read. In her hands Loretta’s legacy is assured.
Please find below a playlist of these songs plus a couple of others from artists who have previously cited Loretta as an influence. Let me know any others in the comments or on social media so we can add and expand the playlist.
Reblogged this on Moving Toyshop.
Great piece thank you. I would add as a particular song Brandy Clark’s ‘3 kids and no husband’ from Big Day in a Small Town (heavily influenced by Loretta as a whole) which brilliantly updates One’s On The Way – from a useless husband to a single mother – ‘a goddam hero’ as Brandy says.
Incidentally in one of those weird coincidences, Janis Joplin died on 4 October 1970 and exactly 52 years Loretta is gone.
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Thank you – have added that one to the playlist. Love Brandy!
Very good, Nick. Thorough. Wow. I didn’t know you followed and listened to US country music. So do I. I grieved — really — when Nancy Griffiths died. The one concert I went to this summer featured Emmy Lou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Mary Chapin Carpenter is another of my favorites. John Prine a favorite male singer — alas, he died of Covid.
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