Let's be honest, adversity is something that Wynette was intimately acquainted with...
Sid Smith 2008-04-07
It was 40 years ago that Tammy Wynette first declared that women should stand by their men. Released along with Take Me To Your World, and D.I.V.O.R.C.E, the sentiments expressed in these and other songs featured here, embodied a position that was wholly counter-intuitive to the counter-culture. It was the soundtrack for Richard Nixon's 'silent majority', extolling Conservative virtues, syrupy romanticism, family values, homespun homilies and the importance of stoically enduring whatever adversity (or your husband) threw in your face.
And let's be honest, adversity is something that Wynette was intimately acquainted with from an early age. Her musician father dead whilst she was still a baby, raised by her grandparents, picking cotton as kid, married at 17, producing three children of her own in three years before becoming a divorcee in her early twenties. She embarked on her rags-to-riches trajectory by singing in clubs primarily as a way of paying medical bills incurred when one of her children contracted a life-threatening illness. Dogged by her own sporadic bouts of ill-health, and a poor choice in husbands who hit the bottle and her, it doesn't get much more 'country' than that.
Yet, it would require a heart of stone not to laugh at Kids Say The Darndest Things, I Don't Wanna Play House, My Elusive Dreams (a truly toe-curling duet with journeyman David Houston), My Man Understands, He Loves Me All The Way or the leaden chimes of Golden Ring (with troubled hubby, George Jones)
But whatever doubts one may have about the saccharine-sweet sentimentality or the ladled-on lachrymose content, there’s no doubting Wynette’s remarkable voice and the depth of her technical abilities.
With a delivery crannied with carefully measured choked-back hesitancies, (paradoxically lending a sense of truth which the mostly trite lyrics barely deserve), when she opens up the throttle to belt out those cheesy choruses, she transcends the white-trash, cheap scent surroundings, living up to the hype of being the First Lady of Country Music.
With lots of Tammy compilations to chose from (especially at the lower end of the market), it's not immediately why this one should win your hard-earned cash given the notable omissions such as her respect-laden series of duets on 1994's Without Walls, where the likes of Sting, Elton John and other mega-popsters lined up to stand by their woman.
Her appearance on KLF's Justified And Ancient was a rare wild card moment in an otherwise straight deck career. More kitsch than cult it never quite gained the crossover credibility enjoyed by other country artists (i.e. Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris) working outside their immediate comfort zones.
None of that mattered particularly to Wynette who died at the shockingly young age of 55 in 1998. She probably took some comfort from the knowledge that her revered position in country music's rhinestone-lined firmament didn't depend on the vagaries of fashion and chart position.