A Conversation with Tammy Wynette

Miss Wynette? Come in please. I’m the new lyrics editor here at Epic Studios. I have a few questions about your latest song. If it’s all right with you, I think we should just go through it together, line by line. Shall we get started? Great!

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Hard, easy – isn’t it just inevitable, at least for you and me? Ha ha! But I don’t want to pick, because I can see that you’re setting up for the next line. So let’s move on to it.

Givin’ all your love to just one man.

Now there are two assumptions embedded (ahem) here: that a woman does give her love to just one man; and that somehow things would be easier for her if she didn’t. I’m pretty sure the record from Biblical times to the present day shows that both assumptions are somewhat fraught, so I’m going to suggest that you take a look at those lines again.

You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times
Doin’ things that you don’t understand.

What things are we talking about here? Staying out all night without any explanation? Drinking to excess? Carrying on with other women? I understand these things fine, I just don’t accept them, and nor do most of the women in your audience, I expect.

But if you love him, you’ll forgive him

Now, I think this line is perfect: indeed, it’s a noble sentiment. I mean, who among us hasn’t needed a little forgiveness from time to time?

Even though he’s hard to understand

Honestly, I think this spoils the effect you’re going for here, with the forgiveness motif. What if other women feel the same way I do ““ that the impediment to forgiveness isn’t a lack of understanding?

And if you love him . . .

Now you see, here I thought I knew what was coming next, because we had just covered it. If I love him, I’ll forgive him! Right?

. . . oh, be proud of him

But noooo! Forget that bit about forgiving him. Now you’re telling me to be proud of him. I must admit, I’m puzzled.

You know, sometimes I find it helps to recap. Let’s see if I’ve got things straight to this point in the song. Because I’m a woman, givin’ all my love to just one man, then I should expect two things:

  • To have bad times
  • To find him hard to understand

And I should do two things:

  • Forgive him
  • Be proud of him

Is that about it? You know, when I lay it out like that, Miss Wynette, I’m having some trouble getting the logic of your argument here. Can I leave that with you for another look?

Let’s go on to the next line.

‘Cause after all he’s just a man.

Now, here’s where I have a major disconnect. I could understand if you were suggesting I should forgive him because he’s “just a man.” I guess that’s the “he can’t help himself” argument, but honestly, it seems to patronize half the population, doesn’t it? But I’m not getting the rationale for being proud of someone precisely because they can’t keep themselves from being a layabout, a drunk, or a philanderer. I mean, is that really what you’d tell your daughter about her man?

Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely.

You know, that image of a man clinging to both my arms isn’t really working for me. And, of course, the nights won’t be cold and lonely if he has something warm to come to, will they? But I expect that a casual listener might overlook those points, so I’d be OK with letting them go.

I think that’s it. The rest of the lyrics are the chorus — a little repetitive, really — but I’m more concerned about the overall lack of conceptual clarity.

What’s that? You say the song was written in 15 minutes? You know, I have to be honest with you: I think it shows.

What’s that? You intend to record it anyway, as is? Well, Miss Wynette, you’re the recording artiste here, so that’s your prerogative, but trust me when I say that, with all its flaws, this song is never going to catch on.

“Stand by Your Man” is a song co-written by Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill and originally recorded by Wynette, released as a single in the United States in September 1968. It proved to be the most successful record of Wynette’s career, and is one of the most covered songs in the history of country music. The song was placed at number one on CMT’s list of the Top 100 Country Music Songs. Wiki entry

For my money, the best cover ever was by the Blues Brothers.


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6 Responses to A Conversation with Tammy Wynette

  1. Jim Robertson says:

    I always wonder how many people really listen and think about the words in a song, versus just enjoy (or not) the surface music.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – Songs pull an interesting mix of emotional levers, that’s for sure. To borrow and pervert a proof concept from mathematics, “making sense” is not sufficient and may not even be necessary.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    It’s fairly clear to me that most songwriters have never had an editor. Remember that line, “When the sun comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the bay…”? It don’t. And China ain’t across the bay from Mandalay. But who cares? The words are almost irrelevant if they lift along with the tune. Consider the devotion some people hold to “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
    Actually, I think there’s a disconnect goes on when people sing. They don’t hear the words; they only hear their own performance. And if that performance (even in a singalong situation) touches something deep inside them, they could be singing “Deutchland uber alles” for all they care.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Nor a fact checker, eh? The appeal to the reptile brain (or whatever) that you speak of is, perhaps, illustrated by national anthems. Some – like the Soviet anthem (singing starts at 1:57) – stir the blood even without knowing what the words mean. And that scene reminds me of the one from The Enemy Below, where a sing-along of old German sonds (oddly, rendered in English) is used to raise the morale of the Germans in a submarine and to thumb their noses at the Americans in the destroyer above.

  3. …and with lyrics like those, prompted by women’s second-ratedness back then, a whole generation of young girls were taught to believe a philandering lout was all they would get or deserve — and they were supposed to be proud of them as well! Can you say Doormat, young lady?

    The condescending sentiment “he’s just a man” ran a terribly brutal course for many recent years in TV shows/commercials that had the man of the house belittled, made fun of by kids and wives. The pendulum swings and that’s over I suspect (but don’t watch many ads; have a PVR).

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, there’s a big difference between understanding that the genders are predisposed differently in some regards by evolution and believing that anyone’s behaviour is completely determined/excused by that predisposition. And the commonplace disrespecting of the other gender doesn’t support a civil society.

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