When revisiting Tammy Wynette’s career, her singing talents and abilities as a song interpreter establish why she’s still a household name. Few in country music history better captured the pains and triumphs of the common people celebrated in her songs. This empathy came from a real place, as Wynette’s ascent from a little girl in Mississippi to part of Nashville’s jet set included five marriages and the real-life twists and turns that make her life story seem too dramatic to be true.
Decades of hit records and legendary performances established Wynette as one of the greatest female voices in country music history. Her range of songs blended the defiance of Kitty Wells’ “Honky Tonk Angels” or Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin” with the class of Patsy Cline and the showmanship of Dolly Parton. Her talents, and willingness to tell it like it is, elevated her various duet partners over the years, including famous husband George Jones.
From her debut single, a 1966 version of “Apartment No. 9,” to an unlikely 1991 crossover hit with British electronic rock group The KLF, Wynette dotted a Hall of Fame career with memorable songs. Regardless of song topic, decade or duet partner, Wynette brought a sense of wisdom and jadedness to lonely songs about heartbreak. As the unfiltered voice of married women everywhere, she didn’t sugarcoat things, pretending like life is just about owning a two-story house in the nice part of town. Instead, Wynette told the truth without overshadowing the pluses of loving relationships.
With that view of Wynette’s public persona in mind, consider these songs the 10 greatest showcases of her creative brilliance.
10. “My Elusive Dreams” (With David Houston)
One of Wynette’s first big breaks came with this early career duet. Little did fans know that a bigger name than Houston would eventually help ensure Tammy’s lasting fame.
9. “That’s the Way It Could Have Been” (With Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn)
All due respect to the Trio, but this is an even more iconic collective of women featuring Dolly Parton. Plus, it’s a solid example of Wynette working her magic on a love song.
8. “Kids Say the Darndest Things”
Wynette’s role as the common woman’s brutally honest voice shines here as she does more than brag about the neighborhood kids and local schools.
7. “Something to Brag About” (With George Jones)
A less likely pick, this duet channels the tongue-in-cheek send-ups of love songs made famous by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. With all of the teasing and biting comments, they sound like a real couple.
6. “Golden Ring” (With George Jones)
This duet with Jones best suits a celebration of Wynette as the unapologetic voice of the common woman. Here, she lays out why a wedding band doesn’t mean anything apart from a loving relationship.
5. “I Don’t Wanna Play House”
The swiftest and most stinging gut punch in Wynette’s repertoire explores how broken relationships impact innocent little kids’ view of their own interactions with others.
4. “I Still Believe in Fairy Tales”
This iconic song stands out because of its lullaby-style backing track and its use of bedtime story imagery to explain a woman’s relationship expectations.
3. “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”‘
Wynette tells a cheating partner that if he wants a wild woman like the ones hanging out at the bars, she’ll spitefully give him just that. It’s the type of song Nikki Lane might turn heads with now, so it was way ahead of its time.
Only Aretha Franklin herself gained more, um, respect for spelling out the truth. For Wynette, the truth was ugly, especially since a child was part of the failing marriage in question.
1. “Stand By Your Man”
Who else could’ve wrung more emotion from this truly great song about true love overcoming the odds? No wonder it was once on the tip of Hillary Clinton’s tongue.