Sometimes it’s hard, To be… A woman… Let me ask you: Is there a better opening line out there?
Stand by Your Man, by Tammy Wynette (her 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 11th May – 1st June 1975
Then there’s the twang and the tremble in Tammy Wynette’s voice as she gives her piece of marital advice… Giving all your love, To just, One man… ‘World-weary’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. This is some proper, old-school, Nashville Country & Western, where life is tough and men just don’t appreciate you.
You’ll have bad times, And he’ll have good times… Oh Tammy, honey… Doing things that you don’t understand… Her husband stays out late, wasting his time in gambling and carousing and other manly pursuits, while Tammy pines at home. I love the clanging, reverbing guitars as the chorus clicks into gear: Stand by your man! Give him two arms to cling to… And somethin’ warm to come to… When nights are cold and lonely…
It’s a ridiculous sentiment, really, especially to 2021 ears. ‘Stand by Your Man’ would have sounded old-fashioned in 1975, or even in 1968 when it was recorded (feminist movements of the time certainly thought so.) If you love him, You’ll forgive him… No, Tammy! If your good-for-nothing husband’s staying out all night, drinking and fornicating, you change the locks and come at him with a rolling-pin! And if that doesn’t work, you divorce him. (Of course, Wynette’s other signature hit is ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, although in that song she is the one being divorced…)
But then, if you think about it, to most women in the sixties, who lived in the conservative parts of America where country music is the defining sound, divorce wouldn’t have been an option. It would have meant disgrace, scorn and opprobrium. So this record would have resonated with many a put-upon wife, left with little option other than standing by her man. Wynette always argued that stand by your man wasn’t the most important line in the song. She pointed people’s attention to: ‘cause after all, he’s just a man… (Ouch!)
Why was this record hitting #1 now, in the spring of 1975? It had featured in a Jack Nicholson film a few years before, but I can’t find any other reason. Then again, I could ask that question about every C&W hit. They come along, every so often, standing out like a sore thumb. Kind of like reggae, it’s a genre that pops up every now and again, without changing very much, and the strings and echoey backing guitars are the same ones we heard in the fifties, on monster country hits like ‘Rose Marie’.
Tammy Wynette was one of the genre’s biggest stars – the ‘First Lady of Country’, no less – with seventeen #1s on the Billboard Country charts. This, being one of only three chart appearances here, doesn’t tell her full story at all. (Though a parody of one of her other hits will be featuring in this countdown very soon…) She died in 1998, but not before making one of the greatest music comebacks of all time, with the KLF, and the ancients of Mu Mu on ‘Justified and Ancient’ in the early ‘90s… Tammy, stand by the JAM…