Loretta Lynn - I’m a Honky Tonk Girl (1960)
Loretta Lynn was one of country music’s first feminists. Married at the age of 15, she had four children by the time she was nineteen years old; as her career went on, she wrote songs about the burden of motherhood, the double standard applied to female divorcees, and birth control. This song, though, was her first single, and it’s just a song about a lonely girl who seeks solace in a bar, right? Except that in 1960, to be a “honky tonk girl” — that is, a single girl in a drinking establishment — was to be seen as something dangerous, loose, and dirty. Simply singing a song from the perspective of such a woman was controversial, but by doing so, Loretta made her plight relatable, and thus just a bit more acceptable.
Forget about its progressiveness, though — it’s also a wonderful song. Loretta wrote it when she was 25, and while her voice is still improving, her performance is all talent — the harmony on the title line gets me every time. Producer Speedy West, one of the greatest pedal steel players of all time, rounds out what would already be a stellar single with a bright, shimmering sound and some terrific work behind the strings.