It's Tammy Wynette's songs, not her personal highs and lows or her marriage to George Jones, that made her the First Lady of Country Music and a legend in her own time.
From her debut country song, 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. She even had a Grammy-winner (Best Female Country Vocal Performance) with "I Don't Wanna Play House." Regardless of song topic, decade or duet partner, Wynette brought a sense of wisdom and jadedness to songs, often about everyday life or heartbreak-- with huge assists from legendary Nashville producer Billy Sherrill. As the unfiltered voice of married women everywhere, she didn't sugarcoat things. Instead, Wynette told the truth without overshadowing the pluses of loving relationships, as evidenced by her number one hit, "Til I Can Make It On My Own."
Indeed, her range of hits blended the defiance of Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn with the class of Patsy Cline and the swagger of Conway Twitty. Her many talents, and her willingness to tell it like it is, elevated her various duet partners over the years, from Jones to "My Elusive Dreams" collaborator David Houston.
With that context in mind, here's a playlist of a creative genius' 10 greatest hits.
10. "That's the Way It Could Have Been" (With Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn) (Honky Tonk Angels, 1993)
All due respect to the Trio, but this is an even more iconic collective of women featuring Parton. Plus, it's a solid example of Wynette working her magic on a love song, not a tale of personal life devastation. Listen here. The Wynette-penned song, which she'd recorded prior to '93, was also a success for the duo of Kenny Rogers and Dottie West.
9. "Kids Say the Darndest Things" (Kids Say the Darndest Things, 1973)
Wynette's role as the common woman's brutally honest voice shines here as she does more than poke good-natured fun at young 'uns. It's similar to "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" because its about the kind of things children overhear when their parents weigh the pluses of splitting up. Listen here.
7. "Something to Brag About" (With George Jones) (We Go Together, 1971)
A less likely pick, this duet channels the tongue-in-cheek send-ups of love songs made famous in the same timeframe by Lynn and Twitty. With all of the teasing and biting comments, they sound like a real couple-- which was true. Listen here. It was first cut by Charlie Louvin and Melba Montgomery and later got the Willie Nelson and Mary Kay Place treatment.
The couple more famously scored country hits with "(We're Not) the Jet Set," "Two Story House," "Let's Build a World" and "We're Gonna Hold On."
6. "Golden Ring" (With George Jones) (Golden Ring, 1976)
This duet with Jones best suits a celebration of Wynette as the unapologetic voice of everyday people. Here, she lays out why a wedding band doesn't mean anything outside from a loving relationship. It's also one of Jones' seminal recordings from a very lengthy career and deep discography. Listen here.
Other duets of note from Wynette's career range from a version of "Today I Started Loving You Again" with Merle Haggard to a crossover cover of pop hit "Sometimes When We Touch" with Exile's Mark Gray.
5. "I Don't Wanna Play House" (Take Me to Your World / I Don't Wanna Play House, 1968)
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. It's a common theme in her songs for a reason: divorce rates rose in the 1960s. Listen here.
4. "I Still Believe in Fairy Tales" (I Still Believe in Fairy Tales, 1975)
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. Listen here.
For other examples of Wynette as a hopeless romantic, check out "'Til I Get It Right," "The Ways to Love a Man," "My Man (Understands)," the aptly-titled "Another Lonely Song" and the peppy pop-country banger "He Loves Me All the Way."
3. "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad, 1967)
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 and other rebels might turn heads with now, so it was way ahead of its time. The No. 3 hit signaled Wynette's mainstream arrival and set the bar high for the next 30 years of her career, all of which was spent with Epic Records. Listen here.
For another driving honky-tonk tune, revisit "Good Lovin' (Makes It Right)."
2. "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" (D-I-V-O-R-C-E, 1968)
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. Like our No. 1 pick, it'll forever be synonymous with country music from the late '60s. Listen here.
For another conversational-style country classic, stream "Singing My Song" or "You and Me."
1. "Stand By Your Man" (Stand By Your Man, 1969)
Who else could've made the most of this truly great classic country song about true love overcoming the odds? Plus, this 1968 single (the album bearing its name followed the next year) defines the very concept of country music to listeners of a certain age. No wonder it was once on the tip of Hillary Clinton's tongue-- even if the former First Lady took its lyrics way out of context. Listen here.
This story was originally published in 2018.
READ MORE: 'American Recordings': A Track-by-Track Guide to Johnny Cash's Career-Redeeming 1994 Album
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