Underrated: Stand by Tam

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The Independent Culture
The Independent has it in for Tammy Wynette. She's had the straight razor treatment from Lynn Barber; the listing for her 1993 shows called her 'bogstandard country'; and last month a review of Mary Chapin Carpenter attested to her honesty by suggesting that she would never sing 'Stand by Your Man' - Wynette's greatest hit and the source of the low esteem in which she's held. We won't tolerate the advice that a woman should give her man 'something warm to come to when the nights are cold'. Reactionary rubbish, and so is Tammy Wynette.

The song is not that simple, and nor is Wynette. The key is the first line of 'Stand by Your Man': 'Sometimes it's hard to be a woman', which has provided Wynette's theme in a career spanning more than a quarter of a century. Country is the music of the suburban working class; Wynette gives voice to that class, and particularly to its women.

It is odd that such a long career should be misrepresented by a single song. Months before 'Stand by Your Man' gave Wynette her first gold disc, she recorded 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E', a song which comes closer to the themes which have preoccupied Wynette's recordings. I don't think 'Stand by Your Man' advocates passive subservience, but even if it did, she has usually had other stories to tell. She herself has been through five marriages.

Several Wynette recordings even seem to endorse the radical view of marriage as legalised prostitution. 'They Call It Making Love' explicitly links paid sex in a rented room to loveless coupling in a worn-out marriage. And 'Between 29 and Danger' suggests 'I've got to learn to walk before he makes me crawl - I'd rather be a common tramp than nothing at all'.

Like the best blues singers, she makes a limited voice a deeply personal instrument. Her phrasing and timing are precise and inventive. If this is bog-standard, I'm moving to the swamps.

(Photograph omitted)

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