Loretta Lynn began writing songs as a teenager on her Sears Roebuck guitar during the downtime between laundering other folks’ clothes and raising her own kids. Today, she indisputably stands as one of country music’s greatest singers, writers and performers ever — not bad for a poor coal miner’s daughter from Appalachia.
Lynn placed No. 11 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice. Each influential musician or band is ranked based on an artist poll conducted by CMT among the biggest stars in country music. The ballot isn’t limited to just country artists, thus highlighting artists from all genres that influence country’s biggest names. One by one, the countdown is revealed each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
Here, in chronological order, are 10 prime hits that trace the incredible path of the Country Music Hall of Famer’s groundbreaking career.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”
Lynn issued this razor-sharp takedown of a competitor for her man’s affection in 1966. The title track of her second album, the self-penned song climbed to No. 2, becoming her highest-charting single to date. The Grateful Dead, Martina McBride and Paramore have all covered the hit, in which the rival has naively come to tell Lynn to get lost. Lynn turns the tables: “Women like you, they’re a dime a dozen/You can buy ‘em anywhere.”
“Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”
This swift right hook was Lynn’s chart-topping answer to years of men singing country songs glorifying honky-tonk carousing. The first No. 1 single of her career, the tune’s simultaneously coy and direct treatment of sex ruffled plenty of feathers in 1966 — one year before Lynn became the first woman ever to win CMA entertainer of the year. It was far from the last time she courted controversy.
Another rollicking threat written and inimitably sung by Lynn, 1968’s “Fist City” warned women to stay away from her husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. She promises some serious brawling if those women chose to ignore her, sweetly snarling: “I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground.” Lynn wrote several songs cautioning ladies to steer clear of Doo, whose alcoholism and womanizing over more than 50 years of marriage gave Lynn ample writing material.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter”
The second of eight children born to Clara and coal miner Ted Webb in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Lynn was married as a teenager and a mother several times over before she hit her 20s. This 1970 smash is the story of her life — a portrait of poverty and love, proudly delivered. The best-selling autobiography and iconic film of the same name followed, while Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Lynn earned her the Oscar for best actress.
“After the Fire Is Gone” with Conway Twitty
Artistic chemistry has rarely topped the sparks that flew as Conway Twitty and Lynn sang about passion, lying and cheating. The two became one of country music’s most beloved pairs, and in 1971, this scorcher became their first No. 1 duet and won a Grammy. The song kicks off with the gut-wrenching chorus, as Twitty and Lynn cry together about the chill that settles in once love has died: “There’s nothing cold as ashes/After the fire is gone.”
“One’s on the Way”
When Lynn tackled women’s issues in her music, she was upfront, plainspoken and never lost her sense of humor, which is on dazzling display in this 1971 hit written by the brilliant Shel Silverstein. Without a trace of bitterness or self-pity, Lynn reels off tabloid-worthy tidbits from the glamorous lives led by Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy before breaking into a chorus that acknowledges leaky faucets, clueless husbands and humble, overwhelming motherhood.
This send-up of society’s treatment of divorced women as damaged goods topped the charts in 1973. Like most of Lynn’s work, the song features Nashville’s legendary A-Team studio musicians and was produced by Music Row rajah Owen Bradley, whose lush arrangements provided ideal juxtaposition for Lynn’s unpolished power. In 2001, devoted fan Jack White included a live cover of “Rated ‘X’” as the B-side to the White Stripes’ single “Hotel Yorba,” off the White Blood Cells album that he also dedicated to Lynn.
“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” with Conway Twitty
Thankfully, Twitty and Lynn could be as mischievously giddy as they could be sorrowful. This 1973 Cajun-infused romp about one man and one woman who refuse to let the Mississippi River and its alligators keep them away from each other became the pair’s third No. 1.
She had stirred the pot before, but with the 1975 release of this song extoling the virtues of birth control, Lynn set off high-voltage alarms. Numerous country stations banned the tune, which still climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard charts in spite of its critics. In her signature sly drawl, she compares herself to a worn-out hen sick of roosting and looks forward to miniskirts and hot pants now that those baby-making days are behind her.
“Portland, Oregon” featuring Jack White
Jack White produced Lynn’s 2004 studio album Van Lear Rose, which clinched Lynn’s first Grammy in more than three decades. White and Lynn trade flirtatious lines on “Portland, Oregon,” a blues-laced barroom jaunt that introduced a generation or two of new fans to one of country music’s defining voices and proved the girl from Butcher Hollow has still got it in spades.