Thursday, March 23, 2017

"It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (released 1952)

As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin'

The tune about the wild side of life

As I listen to the words you are sayin'
Kitty Wells

It brings memories when I was a trustful wife

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

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

It's a shame that all the blame is on us women

It's not true that only you men feel the same

From the start

Most every heart that's ever broken

Was because there always was a man to blame

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

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong



Published by

Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group

Long before women’s liberation was even on America’s radar, Kitty Wells belted out this great hit written by J.D. "Jay" Miller. During this era in American history and Country Music history; which was dominated by men, this was very cutting edge.

This song was an answer song to the Hank Thompson hit "The Wild Side of Life." Recorded by Kitty Wells June 1952 and released later that year, this song quickly caused a lot of controversy, and was banned from NBC radio and the Grand Ole Opry (before becoming a hit of course). Despite launching a new movement of female country singers, Wells would later tell NPR that she was no feminist, in fact when she was approached to sing "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," she was about to give up her career singing with her husband’s band to be a stay at home wife and mother.
The recording session paid $125 and she agreed to lay down the vocals to make the money. The song quickly became a huge hit, selling over 800,000 copies, making Kitty Wells the first solo female act to hit number one on Billboard’s country chart as well as the first female country singer to cross over to Billboard’s pop chart, and earning her the title "Queen of Country Music." The song took an early feminist stance by going on the offensive against 1950s double standards that allowed men to act as though "they’re still single" while expecting their wives to be waiting for them at home when they chose to return. The song struck a chord especially with the female listening public who did not often hear their side of the story represented in country music. The song also made room for women in the male-dominated, conservative country music industry. Before Wells hit it big with this single, country women were mostly confined to the role of "girl singer" performing with an otherwise all male band. Country women were also rarely given record deals, as their potential to sell singles and albums and sellout theaters was not recognized by the men in charge of country labels.
Though she recorded it expecting to net only the $125 recording fee, "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" skyrocketed Kitty Wells to fame and launched her on a successful solo music career that lasted fifty years. With one song, Wells broke down the gender barrier in country music and paved the way for all future female country stars to make it on their own.

Rolling Stones Magazine:

"There's a great history in American music of answer songs that trump their targets – "This Land Is Your Land," "Roll with Me, Henry," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Roxanne's Revenge" – and this includes Kitty Wells' riposte to Hank Thompson's 1952 hit "The Wild Side of Life." The original condemned an ex-fiancée (whom the singer appears to have stalked) as a common floozy. Wells' revved-up reply (via songwriter Jay Miller, with husband Johnnie Wright on bass!) indicted unfaithful men for making their own empty beds, and scored the first Number One country hit for a solo female artist, inspiring generations to resist submissive stereotypes. As testament to Wells' groundbreaking courage in recording the song, NBC Radio banned it and the Grand Ole Opry forbade her from performing the song on its hallowed stage until they relented due to its growing popularity".

Change happens, and in the music industry it happens a lot, some for the good and some would argue often for the bad, either way it’s inevitable. Although written by a man, this song did a lot for the women in country music, if I could tell Kitty one thing today it would be this….We’ve come a long way baby!


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