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Standing by Tammy Wynette

Country Musings by Robert Loy, September 2007

I've been missing Tammy Wynette more than usual lately.

I'm not just missing her because she, more than any other artist, was responsible for beguiling me with country music and for starting off this lifelong long affair we've had.

And not just because she was taken from us way too early at the age of 55, not just because she had absolutely had the most pure-country, most heartbreakingly beautiful voice ever, or because she had that realness that seems so lacking in modern country - Tammy always kept her cosmetology license up to date just in case that whole "queen of country music" thing fell through; it doesn't get any realer than that.

No, I'm missing her more these days because I feel her reputation, which had started to suffer when she was still alive, has really fallen off since her death in April 1998. She should be sitting on the right hand of Patsy Cline and recognized as the patron saint of distaff country music, but she's not. And as her reputation has slipped, Loretta Lynn's has risen.

And I blame Hillary Clinton for that.

In a famous 1992 interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," the future First Lady said "I'm not some little woman, standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette." Even though Tammy demanded and received an apology, the damage was done.

And unfortunately it seems to me that this is the way Tammy is remembered these days, as a "little woman" singing songs about how great it is just to have a man even if he beats, mistreats or cheats on you, sort of an embarrassing throwback to a less-enlightened time.

I have to admit there's some truth to that perception as she did do a lot of songs on that faithful-no-matter-what wife theme - "The Ways to Love a Man," "Singing My Song," "He Loves Me All the Way" - and even I cringe a little at "Run, Woman, Run" and the line about him "doing things that you don't understand" in "Stand By Your Man."

Obviously, this is where Loretta Lynn has a huge advantage since she is known for not-taking any crap songs like "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "Your Squaw is On the Warpath," "Rated X" and "The Pill," which sit better with modern sensibilities. (And, of course, being able to release a late-career masterpiece like "Van Lear Rose" is a big advantage too.)

But if that's all you think about when you think of Tammy Wynette, you're selling her short. If you can't appreciate the voice because the message gets in the way, then listen to her other less-servile stuff.

Listen to "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (a take-no-crap song if there ever was one) or "The Wonders You Perform" (still my favorite country gospel song) or any of the duets with George Jones. Listen to "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"; if you don't think this is the seminal country song sung by the absolutely-right voice for it, do us all a favor and stick with rock and rap.

I guess the ironic thing about this is that Tammy was not the stand-by-your-man type. She was married five times and had affairs with Burt Reynolds and others. Loretta Lynn stood by her man Doolittle for almost 50 years even though he cheated on her and left her once as she was about to give birth.

Look, please don't think I'm dissing Loretta Lynn. I love Loretta and I believe she deserves to be where she is - right at the top of most country fans' hearts. I just believe Tammy Wynette should be up there beside her.