Loretta Lynn is known as one of the mothers of modern country music. Off the strength of classics like ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, Lynn’s take on life in the American south struck a nerve with the working-class people who knew nothing else but working in the rural sides of Mississippi and Georgia. Lynn wasn’t afraid to speak her mind either, and one of her more pointed songs landed her in hot water.
Taken from her album Back to the Country, Lynn came under fire for the song ‘The Pill’, which talks about relying on birth control. In every line, Lynn seethes with anger at her man for using her as a means to have children, swearing to use the pill to not worry about another child again.
This tune is far from the first time Lynn had spoken her mind in song, though, with tracks like ‘Fist City’ telling off a woman trying to steal her husband away from her. Since the single was released in the conservative country world, some fans had strong feelings about ‘The Pill’, thinking Lynn was indirectly promoting birth control. When asked about it, Lynn was almost confused about why people were so angry, saying, “I didn’t understand that because everybody was taking the pill. I didn’t have the money to take it when they put it out, but I couldn’t understand why they were raising such a fuss over taking the pill”.
That controversy did translate into record sales, though, becoming one of Lynn’s highest charting singles at the time, reaching number 70 on the charts. While Lynn didn’t have as much of a hand in writing the song, she immediately wanted to make her version because it resonated with her.
When talking about her struggles with birth control, Lynn mentioned that she probably wouldn’t have had six children if she had known about the pill, explaining, “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. But I wouldn’t necessarily have had six, and I sure would have spaced ’em better”.
While the country music world caused a big fuss about the song because of a Christian stance on birth control, the medical industry praised Lynn for calling attention to birth control. Since the pills weren’t as widely available to women in rural areas at the time, this song gave fans a way to learn ways to practice safe sex.
When Lynn reached the prestige of country music, her managers had initially told her she shouldn’t perform the song when she got to The Grand Ole Opry. Not to be deterred, Lynn performed the track three times when playing in country music’s hallowed halls, later remembering: “I found out a week later that the Grand Ole Opry had a three-hour meeting, and they weren’t going to let me sing it… If they hadn’t let me sing the song, I’d have told them to shove the Grand Ole Opry!”.
Lynn also got a positive reception from her fellow female country singers, eventually performing the song on Dolly Parton’s variety show. Despite being indebted to the world of country music, Lynn’s refusal to back down to her higher-ups and speaking her mind is closer to punk rock than country and western.