It is rare that an artist will create an album mid-career that turns out to be their defining one but that is exactly what Loretta Lynn did with ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter‘. Returning to her humble beginnings, at the age of 39 Lynn looks back at the Tennessee that shaped her into the fantastic performer she had become and would continue to be. Loretta Lynn has been nominated for fifteen Grammys, three of which she won. She has had three songs banned from radio play for their outrageous political content – content such as contraceptive pill and divorce. She has so far produced 49 studio albums, 36 compilation albums, and 2 live albums. Her most recent is set to come out next year.
Lynn started in 1963, yet somehow by 1971 when this album came out it was her 16th. ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter‘ is a classic defining country album. Steel guitars slide wistfully, but not mournfully; The guitar riffs are playful, but not ecstatic; Her singing is earnest – plain truths told quietly.
The album includes songwriting by Glen Campbell, Conway Twitty, Kris Kristofferson, Peggy Sue Wells, Gene MacLellan, and Marty Robbins: Country royalty.
The defining track is the first and the title song ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter‘ which describes what life was like for her growing up with an honest blue-collar father and a long-suffering mother in a small town. The film of the same name based on her biography takes longer and uses less poetry to describe the same events.
The writing credits are mixed and varied but one song she wrote and performed as an auteur is ‘What Makes me Tick‘. The song starts the theme of wising up to cheating no-good husbands and self-examination. She declares her intention to seek mental healthcare after an abusive relationship, which was rare at the time:
“The way I let you treat me
It’s enough to make me sick
I’m gonna have my head examin’
And find out what makes me tick“
Lynn was a champion of women’s rights and this is apparent in nigh every song. Lynn wrote and performed with her sister Peggy Sue Wells on ‘Another Man Loved me Tonight‘, an unusual light duet about the joys of infidelity. The song ‘Man of the House‘ was written by Lee McAlphin – whose accolades include writing with Johnny Cash on ‘Walk the Line‘. It is a raucous honky-tonk, tongue in cheek number and continues the cautionary theme that poor behaviour by husband’s result in being left or upgraded.
Her sense of humour is apparent in every song too, songs like ‘It Will be Open Season on You‘ describe her literally hunting a lady who had shown interest in her husband, while a chicken-picking telecaster plays the most hillbilly dance number of the album.
Loretta Lynn produced a fine album that is thought-provoking and light, centred around the rights of women to wellbeing, and at the same time toe-tapping and moving. It is a spectrum of human emotion and a quintessential country album.
Loretta Lynn's classic album: politically before its time?