Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17: Tammy Wynette, "Stand By Your Man"

Artist: Tammy Wynette
Song: "Stand By Your Man"
Album: Stand By Your Man
Year: 1968

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Regardless of what era a recording occurred, or from what genre the song might arise, the reality is that any song which found a way to crossover into another genre was almost guaranteed massive success.  While it was certainly easier for styles like "big band" and jazz or hard rock and heavy metal to attract audiences from the other, it is the moments when you find punk and hip-hop or bluegrass and rock combining where some of the most unexpected music legends can be found.  Though in some cases, such fusions are far too ahead of their time, it is when this crossover occurs almost unintentionally that the finest examples can be found, and in every generation, there are a number of clear examples.  Among these seemingly impossible combinations, there are few that have proven to be more fruitful than when country singers are able to spin a bit of "pop" into their songs, and all across the past few decades, almost every time this has occurred, the song in question has become legendary.  Truth be told, before she recorded her "big" hit, Tammy Wynette had already had a number of hit singles on the country music charts, and many saw her as one of the biggest names in that style of music.  However, at the end of 1968, she would completely rewrite her own history, as well as that of popular culture in general, as there has never been another song quite like Tammy Wynettte's iconic 1968 recording, "Stand By Your Man."

As "Stand By Your Man" opens, the lone guitar is as somber as one can find anywhere, and there is no question that this is a country-styled song.  Both in the style and tone of the guitar, that "twang" is rather evident, and yet it is within the emotion that the instrument conveys where the listener is almost instantly drawn into the song.  It is the way that the bass guitar works softly in the background of the song, giving "Stand By Your Man" a unique bounce that pushes it even further into the country sound, and yet at the same time, it gives the track a rather distinctive overall flow.  There is a separation between the two instruments that is rarely found elsewhere, and it gives the impression that there is a great deal of "open space" on the song; and this style of performance and mixing would become the blueprint for a massive number of later recordings.  However, there is perhaps no more a typical "country sound" than what one can hear in the drumming; as the slow "knock" that can be heard is perfectly performed, and at times, it almost sounds more like a slow jazz progression than one from the country genre.  Even when the overall spirit of "Stand By Your Man" steps up slightly during the chorus sections, the overall intimacy of the song is never altered in the least, and it is this ability to keep the tension and mood that sets the recording so far beyond almost anything else from the era from any genre.

However, there is no arguing that while the music has certainly become well known, it is the breathtaking vocal performance from Tammy Wynette that is the highlight of "Stand By Your Man."  Though she had many recordings both before and after this song, there is no arguing that this remains her finest studio moment, as the true power in her voice cannot be denied.  It is the fact that she can so easily work what seems to be every part of the vocal scale, and the power that she brings to every note is far beyond almost any other singer in history.  It is the mixture of pain and perhaps confidence within her singing that is so captivating, and if the song were styled differently, there is no question that "Stand By Your Man" could easily be one of the greatest blues lyrics of all time.  Whether she is almost crooning, perhaps lamenting during the verse sections, or letting her voice soar as high as one can imagine during the chorus, one cannot help but be completely caught up in the force of her singing, as well as her deep commitment to the lyrics.  Yet the words that she sings have certainly caused a great deal of controversy over the years, as many feminist groups have decried the song, stating that it is far too passive.  However, Wynette has rightfully defended that the "key" to the track is in the final parts when one can almost sense her rolling her eyes at her silly, misguided love with the line, "...after all, he's just a man..."

Setting this small amount of controversy aside, one can argue that "Stand By Your Man" is the most heavily covered country song in history, as one can find versions recorded across the decades by artists from almost every conceivable genre.  Whether it was heavy metal rockers, Mötorhead or the new wave band Erasure, "Stand By Your Man" has found its way into all corners of the world of music, and one can also find parts of the song referenced from groups like The Clash and even a spoof on Sesame Street.  Along with these covers in part and full, "Stand By Your Man" is easily one of the most oft-used songs within television and film, and one can find dozens of such occurrences over the past forty years.  Taking all of this into account, there is simply no arguing against the massive amount of impact that "Stand By Your Man" has had across all forms of popular culture; and along with this, one can find a number of instances where the songs' title or lyrics have been cited in interviews and statements by some of the most famous personalities of that same time period.  However, putting this all into perspective, it is a bit unsurprising that the song has enjoyed such long-lasting and widespread success, as the music is perfectly produced, and there is simply no other voice that rings as beautifully nor as powerfully as one can experience when Tammy Wynette sings her iconic 1968 song, "Stand By Your Man."

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