During the politically turbulent year of 1968, Tammy Wynette’s signature song “Stand By Your Man” was out of place to some. Since April of that year, the clear messages behind Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City,” Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA” brought the social awareness of the times to the top of the country charts. Suddenly, a portion of the audience turned their radio dials to a country hit that seemed to apologize for unfaithful and abusive men.
Still, the song was a hit: Fifty-three years ago today (Nov. 23, 1968), “Stand By Your Man” reigned in the top spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. But just as Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” wasn’t necessarily a first-person statement about a changing society, personal interpretations of “Stand By Your Man” hardly sum up the song, or Wynette’s values.
Whether Wynette pitied infidelity — “after all, he’s just a man” — or picked political sides in an oddly defeatist tone, multiple songs in her catalog hum a very different tune about similar situations. In “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and the bluntly titled “Stayin’ Home Woman (Gettin’ Tired of Her Stayin’ Out Man),” turnabout is fair play when dealing with unfaithfulness. A later single titled “Unwed Fathers” blasts absentee dads with a fury contrary to the horrible advice of “Stand By Your Man”: “If you love him, you’ll forgive him.” More famously, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “I Don’t Wanna Play House” consider how failing marriages impact children without harshly judging the divorcees.
As for the song’s staying power, it captures one of the greatest performances by an all-time powerhouse vocalist. Wynette did more than hit the right notes. She felt every lyric and conveyed that feeling — be it pain, longing or joy — to listeners. Few in country music had touched audiences so effectively since the days when Roy Acuff cried on command from the Grand Ole Opry stage.
In addition to hitting No. 1 on the country charts, “Stand By Your Man” also became a Top 20 hit (No. 19) on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.
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