The height of Carpenter’s approach was “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” from 1992’s Come On, Come On. The song was both a high-water mark for Carpenter’s career in the nascent ’90s country movement. By the standard steel-guitars-and-keyboards approach used in many of the popular country songs of the time, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” paints a rollicking picture of a perfect family where the wife is slowly realizing just how little she wants anything in that picture.
The song’s protagonist has three kids before 30. She then spends the next several years slowly realizing how unhappy she is. The first verse paints the perfect picture, and the second shows the cracks in it, concluding with the wife meeting her husband at the door, to tell him,
“I’m sorry, I don’t love you anymore.”
It was a big moment for the country music of the period, striking back against the “Stand By Your Man” image the genre’s female artists had often courted.
Women empowerment expressed in a song
The genius of the song, though, is that Carpenter doesn’t end in that moment of forced girl power. Her feminism extends beyond women realizing they can seize their own destinies, to the society that makes those stifling lives seem so inescapable in the first place.
The song tells of a newly liberated protagonist that finds herself cast into a working world. The only job she can find is a minimum-wage typing-pool position. It’s a contrast that could be bitter met by the jubilation of the chorus. Not to forget the backing vocal that functions as a metronome.
Maybe not everything is roses, but it’s better than being trapped.
Mary Chapin Carpenter on Women Empowerment
When it came to artists out of the new boom who could be enthusiastically embraced by music critics, one of the foremost was Mary Chapin Carpenter. Mary is the daughter of an executive for Life magazine. She came to country music through oblique angles. Her music blended country music instrumentation with strong folk influences. Her music exemplifies the willingness to dabble in more political and feminist themes. This was unusual for the popular country music of the period. She never pushed too much. Thus, allowing her to feed mainstream country radio stories of women dissatisfied with the lives they once told to lead. Carpenter’s music opened doors for later artists like the Dixie Chicks.
For the record…
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” was inspired by a 1970s Geritol TV commercial in which a husband cites his wife’s many attributes, summarizing with:
“I think I’ll keep her.”
The song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and was accompanied by a live performance music video, taken from the 1993 CBS special Women of Country, where Carpenter was accompanied by Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Suzy Bogguss and Pam Tillis.
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Emmy Lou Harris, He Thinks He'll Keep Her, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tilis, Patty Loveless, Suzy Bogguss, The Carpenters, trisha yearwood, Women of Country