From “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” to “The Pill” to Conway Twitty duets and even down to her early 2000s Jack White collaboration and up to her latest 2021 release, Still Woman Enough, Loretta Lynn songs have always been authentic, unapologetic, and revolutionary.
The unabashed country singer created a space for female country musicians in the conservative, male-dominated genre by chronicling real stories of women’s lives and shedding light on the female pleasure, the struggles, and the pain of being a wife, and the double standards that they have to endure. And her songwriting not only challenged the traditional tropes and disturbed the patriarchal society but also reshaped how the genre was seen by outside listeners.
Loretta Lynn claimed that she was no big fan of women’s liberation (a topic for another day, lots to unpack on that). For her, it was just simply telling the truth. And though that may be the case, she still empowered women through her songs. No one could refute that.
But of course, songwriting is only half of the job in creating a hit song. The vocal performance also plays an important role in captivating an audience. And more often than not, this is the part that people sometimes forget about the country icon. Lynn had a voice that cannot be confined to one style and was impossible to even replicate. Her backwood twang can go from naturally sweet and dewy like the girl of any man’s dream to rudely brief and powerful on politicized tracks and controversial hits and everything in between.
And to celebrate her life and legacy, let’s get down to listing Loretta Lynn’s top songs that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE should miss out on.
1. “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” (1960)
Loretta Lynn made quite the statement with her first hit, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” The track peaked at number 14 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 1960. That is, it not only showcased Lynn’s vocal talent but also effectively served her career’s mission.
Essentially considered as an extension of Kitty Wells’ pioneering single “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” the song told the story of a woman whose life was dealt with bad cards and had honky tonk as her only choice. On the first listen, it might not sound as anything out of the ordinary, especially if you’re listening to it only now. But taking into context the life of a woman in the ’60s, you’ll find that this song speaks louder volumes.
2. “Blue Kentucky Girl” (1965)
“Blue Kentucky Girl” was one of the very few songs that weren’t written by Lynn herself. Nevertheless, her sweet, dewy, and rich vocal performance here made it stand out from her discography. The song was actually penned by Johnny Mullins, especially for her describing life in rural Kentucky and the aching loneliness for a man who left her for the brighter lights in the city.
The song peaked at number 7 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart and later inspired the same-titled country breakthrough album of Emmylou Harris.
3. “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)” (1966)
This song was inspired by a real-life incident and served as a hot warning to any woman who would even dare to think of taking her man. Lynn proved to be a force that cannot be ever underestimated not only by her rivals but also by country music itself.
Her same-titled LP became her first number-one album on the Billboard Hot Country Albums chart and her first album to earn a spot on the Top 100 LPs chart. The song itself peaked as a runner-up on the charts and won Lynn CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year. “You Ain’t Woman Enough” also became one of the icon’s most covered songs, including renditions by The Grateful Dead, Martina McBride, and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!
4. “Dear Uncle Sam” (1966)
“Dear Uncle Sam” comes off as quite unfamiliar, even for Loretta Lynn, who was known for taking on different topics. The song speaks from the perspective of a heartbroken wife whose husband was going off to fight in the Vietnam War. It was short – three plain-spoken verses – yet poignant and opened up a space to talk about yet another controversial topic.
Lynn wrote this as the sole track for her 1966 album I Like ‘Em Country. The song became her second successful entry to the Billboard’s Hot Country chart.
5. “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (1967)
Loretta Lynn earned her very first number one hit with her feisty controversial offering “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’.” In the track, Lynn talked about how women like her are tired of being treated poorly by their drunkard husbands. And it was time that they stood their ground, and their husbands took no for an answer.
This song was the first in her discography to fully showcase her take-no-prisoners mentality that made her so famous. And ironically, the song made its way at the top during Valentine’s week. Coincidence or not?
6. “Fist City” (1968)
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” was definitely not the last of Lynn’s warning to her rivals. But in “Fist City,” she no longer went subtle around the topic and talked straight to the ladies flirting and pursuing her man. Even just the first few lines would make you double-take as she described the ladies as trash and as pity in her eyes. She even went on to deliberately ‘threaten’ them that if they don’t stop, they might end up somewhere they’ll regret.
This was definitely one of her most valiant songwriting that gave voice to women who are afraid to speak up.
7. “Wings Upon Your Horns” (1970)
This may not be one of Lynn’s biggest hits, but it definitely won the hearts of many as one of her most poetically heartbreaking lyrics. This ballad highlighted her passionate vocals as she ‘narrated’ giving all of her love to someone only to end up getting destroyed by it. She even followed up the tearjerker track on the same album with “You Wouldn’t Know an Angel (If You Saw One).
But it’s not quite a Loretta Lynn song if it isn’t controversial, right? The song touched on a woman losing her virginity and expressing the idea using religious themes like wings, horns, and halo.
8. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1970)
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” separated itself from the rest of Lynn’s discography mainly because it was a story about her, her family, and how she grew up poor in the mountains of Kentucky. There was no spitting fire that usually characterized her songs or any agenda behind the lyrics. It was simply her story.
This became Lynn’s signature song and turned into a best-selling book in 1976 and a 1980 film that earned actress Sissy Spacek an Oscar for portraying Lynn.
9. “You’re Lookin’ at Country” (1971)
“You’re Lookin’ at Country” came off as a surprise to most Loretta Lynn listeners, just like “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” But the difference between them is that this song doesn’t only quite fit her songs’ narratives telling off no-good men, warning flirtatious rivals, and lamenting lost love; it was also an unexpected rallying cry.
Nevertheless, the track became a beloved hit, crowd-favorite, and perfect sing-along for anyone who is way into country music.
10. “After the Fire is Gone” (1971)
Of course, a list of Loretta Lynn’s greatest hits couldn’t be complete without an entry from her many collaborations with Conway Twitty. The two have become one of country music’s most iconic and legendary duos of their generation.
Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty introduced their powerful duo act with “After the Fire is Gone.” The heartbreaking ballad became their first number-one hit and spent four weeks on the country chart. It also earned them a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or a Group With Vocal. And ever since then, it has been covered by many country greats like Willie Nelson and Tanya Tucker.
11. “What Makes Me Tick” (1971)
This 1971 song is one of her hidden gems that should definitely be given a chance to be heard by many more people. It showcased Lynn’s twisted sense of humor, that has often been missed by many by drawing on the ‘craziness’ usually attributed to married women. And with the tangle of Rickenbacker twanging guitars, the song goes the extra mile.
12. “The Pill” (1975)
“The Pill” gave tribute to the power of birth control pills for married women who didn’t want to give birth just about every year. Lynn herself already had four kids by the time she was 20, and she felt that she was more than qualified to sing a song like this. But this kind of topic that advocated free love and women’s liberation led to quite the backlash, including a preacher denouncing it during a sermon.
But Lynn was not worried at all as she added yet another entry to her long-growing list of controversial songs. Or even with the fact that the song was banned by at least 60 radio stations across the country. The song was still a success peaking at 15,000 units sold in a week and at number five on the country charts. It even reached isolated, rural areas, highlighted the availability of birth control, and gave women a choice. Talk about being progressive!
13. “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” (1993)
“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” was written by Dick Reynolds, and Jack Rhodes was first recorded by Wanda Jackson in 1956. And among the song’s many cover versions was Loretta Lynn’s with fellow country legends and primary forces in country-pop Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. Their voices, despite major vocal signature differences, blended seamlessly and turned the song into their very own rich, string-sawing style.
14. “Portland Oregon” (2004)
Loretta Lynn collaborated with Jack White, one of the key artists in the 2000 revival garage punk style, to produce her career’s best album Van Lear Rose. The album received critical acclaim and earned commercial blockbuster status. That is, it marked a so-called uncompromising artistic renaissance for the then 72-year-old singer stripping it down on hard-edged sound. And among the thirteen masterpieces in that album was “Portland Oregon.”
And despite the grungy-sounding track, Loretta Lynn’s voice still stood out, vibrant and powerful as if she had never aged.
15. “Still Woman Enough” (2021)
If there would be a song to encapsulate Loretta Lynn, there would be a lot of choices like her autobiographical lyrics such as “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” or her hit and controversial songs like “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'” or “The Pill.”
But “Still Woman Enough” from her final album, on which she also collaborated with Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood, presents as a strong contender. As Laura Barton of The Guardian said, “Lynn’s choice of McEntire and Underwood as singing partners forms a thread through the matrilineage of country music, and the tone naturally shifts from one woman squaring up against another to something more allied.”
And more importantly, it was a song that showcased herself as a woman who has been through struggles, determination, and triumphs in love and life.
More Loretta Lynn Songs
Here are some more hit songs from the country legend and icon.