In 1952, Kitty Wells recorded a J.D. Miller song titled It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels that peaked at number 27 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and soon ended up on the number one spot on the US Hot Country Songs.
The song was written as a reply to Hank Thompson’s hit, The Wild Side of Life. The Wild Side of Life sings about a ‘honky tonk angel’ who “found the glitter of the gay nightlife too hard to resist.” It spoke of wild women or ladies who thrived in the wild side of life. It became an instant hit and left a strong appeal to people who believed and thought that the world would end up in hell and that women without faith deserved to be blamed greatly for such a tragic end.
The lyrics of Kitty Wells’ controversial reply to the equally provocative hit blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women. The song’s refrain perfectly captured the main point of the song, “It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels/ As you said in the words of your song/ Too many times married men think they’re still single/ And that’s caused many a good girl go wrong.
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels caused such a stir and made people see the entire ‘wild women’ situation from a different perspective. According to Wells, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels counters Thompson’s words. She adds that for every woman who had been led astray, there is definitely a man who had led or pushed her to her limits, often times due to his infidelity. It was truly frustrating for Kitty Wells then that women were always turned into scapegoats for all the faults and shortcomings of men in every relationship.
Although Wells did not describe herself as a feminist, she was the perfect artist to convey a woman’s feelings about how women are often sidetracked, misjudged and mistreated. The fact that she is a woman and she truly understands what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated world did not require her to be a feminist to be able to bring justice to her song.
Her standing, as well as her song, was truly a remarkable showcasing of bravery, especially at a time when the male-dominated country music industry held its conservative reins and kept the liberation and sentiments of women in general and female country artists about 10 years too early to achieve.
Wells’ hit song also paved the way for her fellow female country artists such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Patsy Cline. It opened up the emergence of more songs that helped break down and defy the usual and discriminating stereotype about women. Little by little, the fixed societal image that women should be submissive and forgiving to men and their unfaithful behavior was erased—giving way to a perception of stronger, more outspoken and independent women.
Hank Thompson, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, kitty wells
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