Dubbed ‘The First Lady Of Country Music’, Tammy Wynette optimised Billy Sherrill’s Nashville Sound in the late '60s and '70s with her anthems of stoicism and domesticity.
Wynette became an unlikely spokeswoman for white working-class housewives in America, both as a solo artist - with songs like ‘Stand By Your Man’ and ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ – and with her third husband George Jones.
Holler grabs a giant hankie and readies itself for some emotional moments as we take a listen to Tammy Wynette’s best 15 songs:
Written by Bobby Braddock and John Prine, ‘Unwed Fathers’ was the first single off Even the Strong Get Lonely in 1983.
Tammy pointedly weighs up the double standards of parenthood with a tale about a pregnant teenage girl catching a bus out of town to give birth without anyone knowing; not even the child’s father.
Another hit from Bobby Braddock’s pen, this perky duet with George Jones has the pair rhyming “Chevrolet” with “Flamin’ Suzette”.
Declaring Merle Haggard and Ferlin Husky their Bach and (a purposefully mispronounced) Tchaikovsky, they proudly list all the flaws that make their down-to-earth romance more genuine than that of the continent-hopping jet setters.
No, it’s not Tammy suddenly suggesting a woman leaves an unhappy relationship in search of freedom and independence.
The only direction she wants this woman to run is back towards her man, where she should immediately tell him how much she missed him - even if she didn’t - and try to fix her broken relationship; all before she risks it for the sake of future happiness and a potentially fulfilling life. Silly woman, what was she thinking?!
Tammy fully embraces her twee side on this Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton cut from 1973.
She slyly reveals the problems she’s having in her marriage by repeating the supposedly innocent comments and foul-mouthed insults her children keep coming out with when they’re playing.
Stories about The First Lady of Country Music and the King of Country Heartbreak’s tumultuous country marriage are legendary. Nevertheless, George Jones and Tammy Wynette still recorded some of the greatest country duets of all time.
‘We’re Gonna Hold On’ has them pledging to stay together through thick and thin, but sadly it wasn’t to be the case IRL.
Written by her newly appointed producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton in 1967, this Loretta Lynn-lite slice of rockabilly sass was the title track to her debut album.
It ended up being fairly untypical of the sort of domestic narratives Tammy ended up becoming synonymous with.
The kids are at it again, as Tammy sits by the window and listens in on their playtime conversations.
Only this time, she hears her daughter refusing to “play house” with her friend because she’s afraid of recreating the domestic scenarios she’s seen her own parents acting out and being left alone.
Tammy goes all meta with the title track to her 12th studio album in 1974, singing a song about singing a song.
One of her greatest big weepers, you can practically hear her bottom lip wobbling and the tears streaming down her cheeks as she sits alone, late at night, imagining her lover in someone else’s arms.
Sit and revel in the melodrama of it all.
Taken from Woman To Woman – the second of two albums she released in 1974 - ‘This Time I Almost Made It’ finds Tammy on the wrong side of someone else’s marital mess, begging her lover not to return to his wife and stay the night with her instead.
The title track of Woman To Woman showcases Tammy’s soulful side.
Dishing out practical advice to women everywhere about how best to keep a man, she eventually concludes that there isn’t a fat lot you can do about it if a man does want to leave you for someone else.
Released in 1968 at the height of the women's liberation movement, it often feels like ‘Stand By Your Man’ has ended up defining the gender politics of country music, particularly to those outside of the genre.
It sat uncomfortably alongside second-wave feminism, with its reactionary and politically conservative tone, and remains something of an anomaly in a genre that has pushed the boundaries for women more often than it’s reinforced them.
There’s no denying the power of Tammy’s towering vocal though, and if its lyrics still somehow ring true with women’s experiences, then perhaps it shouldn’t be condemned to the dustbin of history just yet.
Like ‘Stand By Your Man’, this quivering countrypolitan blub-fest became a Tammy Wynette standard as soon as it was released in 1968. Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, Tammy delivers one of the most heartbreaking vocals of her career.
Wynette spells out all the words that mothers and fathers hope their young children won’t understand to try and save them from getting hurt when their parents break up.
“Right now I’m like a wounded bird, hungry for the sky”, she sings on this number one single from 1972. “But if I try my wings and try long enough I’m bound to learn to fly”.
Like all the best Tammy Wynette songs, ‘Til I Get It Right’ is a mix of childlike vulnerability and a resolute determination to improve her situation, whatever it takes.
To top it off, she sings as if she’s on the edge of either breaking down in tears or punching someone in the face.
"I was naggin' and he was nippin'" was Tammy Wynette’s summary of her relationship with George Jones, in reference to his wild cocaine and alcohol binges and the fights that would inevitably follow.
Fitting then that some of their best duets were actually recorded after they’d divorced from each other. ‘Golden Ring’ follows the life of a wedding ring from a pawn shop, to a marriage ceremony and back again as George and Tammy relive their stormy relationship in the form of song.
Written with George Richey and Billy Sherrill, Tammy noted on multiple occasions that this song was her personal favourite out of all the songs she’d ever written or recorded. It’s easy to see why.
It’s the perfect distillation of everything that makes Tammy Wynette so great. Her vocal is so full of raw emotion you sometimes wonder if you should be listening, while the lyrics perfectly capture that odd mix of emotions you feel when you go through a breakup, all set to a sweeping orchestral score.
Heartbreak never sounded so beautiful.
Listen and subscribe to Holler's Best Tammy Wynette Songs playlist below: