Loretta Lynns 15 Greatest Songs, From Honky Tonk Girl to The Pill to Her Jack White Collaboration

Forever defined by the ethos of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” — the No. 1 country hit of 1970 that lent its title to her bestselling autobiography and the 1980 film that gave Sissy Spacek an Oscar — Loretta Lynn’s voice and music could never be confined. Lynn could be sweetly naturalistic and dewy on a song such as 1965’s “Blue Kentucky Girl,” then turn around and be curt and forceful on politicized tracks such as 1966’s Vietnam-themed “Dear Uncle Sam” and 1975’s birth-control anthem “The Pill.” She saved some self-assured cockiness for any track she rollickingly recorded with the words “honky tonk” in its name – including the seminal “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” which she re-recorded for her final 2021 album.

Here are 15 of Loretta Lynn’s most shining moments and hidden gems. 

“I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” (1960)
When Loretta Lynn sang the words “Ever since you left me, I’ve done nothing but wrong,” in a heavenly warble against the backdrop of Bakersfield Sound guitars and a yawning pedal steel, she all but foreshadowed the entirety of her career in one swoop. It was here the world first got a glimmer of how she would be telling the stories of women – her own tales, or those overheard in bars and barns. An auspicious debut.


“This Haunted House” (1964)
This matter-of-fact man-leaving-home song from writer Oliver Lynn comes from the same Owen Bradley-produced 1964 album “Before I’m Over You” that yielded the hit track “Wine, Women and Song.” What Lynn does to capture the listener by the throat, from its first words, is lower her already-famous high trill by an octave and find the metaphorical heart of a place that will never be the same. In that respect, “This Haunted House” is the sister to Lynn’s 1964 hit, “Before I’m Over You.”


“Dear Uncle Sam” (1966)
A slow banjo’s puck and a waltzing rhythm (to say nothing of a trumpet blaring “Taps”) leads this Lynn-penned track through the paces of whether the Army or his woman needs this man most. Her first socially conscious number is a polite call-to-arms. Lynn wouldn’t always stay so polite and respectful going forward, as witnessed by the likes of 1969’s “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)” and 1972’s “Rated “X.”


“You Ain’t Woman Enough” (1966)
1966 was a good year for Lynn considering that the “You Ain’t Woman Enough” LP was her first No. 1 album on the US Billboard Hot Country Albums chart, and her first album to hit the Billboard Top 100 LPs chart. The literal strength of its title tune cannot be underestimated with Lynn, the track’s songwriter, playing possum as to her rival’s wiles. Until she doesn’t. “It’ll be over my dead body, so get out while you can,” she sings, with relish. 


Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (1967) 
“Liquor and love, they just don’t mix, leave the bottle or me behind.” Gentleman, your choice is made clear, again in a lower octave than usual, but to a sweetly galloping rhythm.


“Wings Upon Your Horns” (1970)
Not her biggest hit, but one of her most poetic sets of heartbroken lyrics and passionately toiled vocals, Lynn’s ballad about giving one’s better angels over to the devil’s destructive brand of love is a tearjerker. On the same 1970 album, Lynn continued the theme with “You Wouldn’t Know an Angel (If You Saw One).”


“Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1970)
Lynn’s signature soliloquy is but one of many autobiographical riffs in her catalog, including “If You’re Looking at Me, You’re Looking at Country” and “Blue Country Girl.” But “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is Lynn’s most stately self-storied tale, the sort that legends and Michael Apted moves are made of. 


“What Makes Me Tick” (1971)
Lynn’s 1971 “Coal Miner’s Daughter” album features another (perhaps) autobiographically detailed lyric in “What Makes Me Tick,” a humorous look at the matrimonial bed and a psychiatrist’s couch set to a tangle of Rickenbacker twanging guitars.


“Lead Me On” (with Conway Twitty, 1972)
When Lynn tells duet partner Conway Twitty to “take control of how I feel,” you sense a burning romanticism absent from even the hottest of their other pairings, such as “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” And sure, Lynn has sung with other male duet partners in the past, such as Ernest Tubb, but Twitty and a Leon Copeland song such as this just brought out the sensuality of Lynn.


“The Pill” (1975)
The once-shocking topical track featuring hot pants, short shorts and that soft “wah-wah” guitar sound shows off Lynn at her cocksure finest with more than a hint of feminist activism at her side. And, she’ s funny, something for which Lynn doesn’t get enough credit. Plus, it makes a welcome diversion from her longest-running hit, “One’s on the Way” (No. 1 for 16 weeks) from 1971.


“Red, White and Blue” (1976)
The tribal drums and Indigenous-minded vocals may be dated, even controversial in their appropriation, but Lynn’s commitment to the cause – in writing and her vocal – is unparalleled. After this, Lynn’s writing lessened more with each album until the 2000s.


“Out of My Head and Back in My Bed” (1977)
A country rave-up? Listen to the rush and bounce of piano, harmonica and drums while Loretta and her soulful background vocalists take on songwriter Peggy Forman’s look at lurid loving with a grooving gospel feel.


“I Lie” (1982)
In one of her last charting hits, a robust-sounding Lynn makes the most of this MOR ballad’s orchestral sweep, twinkly arrangements and rich harmonic backgrounds. Charming.


“Silver Threads And Golden Needles” (1993, with Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette)
Lynn’s old friend Dolly gathered together country-pop’s primary forces for a rich, string-sawing version of Dick Reynolds and Jack Rhodes’ hiccupping classic, first recorded by Wanda Jackson in 1956. No joke: Their three voices blend seamlessly despite each’s vocal signatures.


“Portland Oregon” (2004)
Though Lynn would record and release music until 2021, Lynn’s teaming with guitarist-producer Jack White for 2004’s atmospheric “Van Lear Rose” album is her most gorgeously triumphant late-in-life effort, with the Doors-like psychedelic barn-stormer “Portland Oregon” offering the coal miner’s daughter a vision as raging as it is sage.


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