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Remembering Loretta Lynn, who helped make the country a place for women to speak out

She recorded her first single “I’m a honky tonk girlin 1960, a few years after learning to play an acoustic guitar given to her by her husband, Oliver “Doo” Lynn. Her relationship with Oliver, who worked as a lumberjack, provided the fuel for many of her songs; they had moved from Kentucky to Washington, where Lynn won a local TV talent contest hosted by country titan Buck Owens. After a few more singles and a successful tour, she signed a contract with Decca Records, releasing her debut album. Loretta Lynn sings in late 1963, a year after earning a spot at the Grand Ole Opry. Lynn landed her first No. 1 on the country charts in 1967 with “Don’t come home drinking (With love on your head)where she warned an alcoholic lover with an ultimatum: it’s either her or the bottle, but not both.

From the start, Lynn stood out as a special kind of real. The women – some of whom may have felt themselves cornered and isolated at home – heard someone on the radio who looked exactly like them. It was in her elastic vowels and laid-back drawl, of course, and in the honesty of her lived experiences, which she relayed with cutting humor. She looked like the kind of outspoken friend who always had good gossip and better whisky, and was eager to share the two. She showed the unglamorous sides of women’s family life with “We are on our waywhich was written by The tree that gives writer and illustrator Shel Silverstein, and cataloged the misogynistic assumptions piled on divorced women in “Rated X.” With famed Nashville A-Team musicians, Lynn maintained a blistering production pace, releasing 17 LPs in the ’70s alone.

‘The Pill’ made its way to radio stations in 1975, three years after Lynn recorded it – although some of his earlier songs drew tuts and sneers, MCA were hesitant to release such a brutal single. Birth control pills had been available for over a decade by the time Lynn sang about them, but the song continued to upset country music’s moral sensibilities. Lynn co-wrote “The Pill” with Lorene Allen, TD Bayless and Don McHan, and they went so far as to suggest that women would like to have sex for fun too; country radio DJs at dozens of stations across the country refused to play it.

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