From his pulpit, a preacher in West Liberty, Ky. recently denounced country singer Loretta Lynn and her new song The Pill. The effect was to send much of the congregation scurrying out to buy the record. More than 60 radio stations from Boston to Tulsa have banned the song, but through word of mouth and the FM underground The Pill is selling 15,000 copies a week. For Loretta Lynn, the most honored woman in country music, it is her biggest hit ever.
The Pill is also a milestone in Loretta’s career as the poet laureate of blue-collar women—those who marry young and get pregnant often. In the songs she writes and those that are written for her, Loretta speaks to these unliberated, work-worn American females, and this time she’s pushing oral contraceptives.
“My mama’s just sorry she didn’t have the pill so she wouldn’t have had eight of us to feed,” says Loretta, who was—in the words of the best-known song she wrote herself—A Coal Miner’s Daughter. Reared in poverty in the Kentucky hills (her mother sold the family’s World War II sugar rationing stamps to moonshiners), she escaped into marriage at 14 in 1949, was a mother a year later and a grandmother at 29. While she was in her mid-20’s and a housewife, her husband Mooney—then a migrant worker, now her road manager—bought Loretta a guitar and a correspondence course in country songwriting. By 1961 she was recording her own tunes and soon signed a long-term contract with MCA Records.
Loretta’s records, personal appearances and song royalties earn her an estimated $2 million a year. She is the only woman named as the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year (in 1972). This month she won the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year for the third time in four years—and with Conway Twitty copped the Duet of the Year. She also does live concert tours with old friend Twitty. “I was a fan of his when he was still singin’ rock ‘n’ roll and now he’s one of the best country singers goin’,” she says, “provin’ anybody can do more than one kind of music.” Conway and Loretta’s duet style, more a musical chat than a smooth blending of voices, most recently produced the best-selling As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone.
Like the rest of Loretta’s finest solos, The Pill is one side of a conversation and not the traditional introspective country lament. “It’s just a wife arguin’ with her husband,” she says. “The wife is sayin’, ‘You’ve kept me barefoot and pregnant all these years while you’ve been slippin’ around. Now you straighten out or I’ll start, now that I have the pill.’ ” Loretta is upset that her record has riled people up. “Why,” she explains, “it’s a husband and wife, not two unmarried people, so that’s not dirty.”
Her hits usually center on domestic crises. One was her own Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), followed by You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man, in which she lashes out at a would-be home-wrecker (“For you to take him I’d have to move over, and I’m gonna stand right here”). Her One’s on the Way muses bitterly that while jet set ladies and movie stars might enjoy their lives, “here in Topeka the roof is a-leakin’, the rain is a-fallin’, the kids keep a-squallin’—and one’s on the way.” In her concerts the song provides a fitting prelude to The Pill.
Loretta is the mother of six, and asserts, “If I’d had the pill back when I was havin’ babies I’d have taken ’em like popcorn. The pill is good for people. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone’s. But I wouldn’t necessarily have had six and I sure would have spaced ’em better.”
The Pill caps a decade of prosperity for Loretta, and she is celebrating with a new gold-green Jaguar convertible. She and Mooney, 48, and their two youngest, twin girls aged 10, live in an antebellum mansion on a 3,800-acre spread in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., a town 75 miles from Nashville that Loretta owns lock, stock and post office. “I don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like,” she admits of her schedule, “but this year I really am gonna slow down.”
Loretta will reach 40 on April 14 (the day she opens a dude ranch at Hurricane Mills, another potential money-maker) and is the grandmother of four—”with one on the way.” She unquestionably is feeling the pace. Last year she was hospitalized nine times for exhaustion.
That may help explain why Loretta’s basic loyalty is still to those tired women who are her fans: “The women buy the records and you’d better let ’em know you’re just like they are. You can’t start singin’ over their heads like you’re somethin’ better.”