Coal Miner's Daughter
by Loretta Lynn
Although Lynn is not strictly "honky-tonk," "Coal Miner's Daughter" clearly shows off Loretta Lynn's honky-tonk influence. Honky-tonk refers to a specific genre with deep roots in the history of country music. "Honky-tonks" were entertainment venues with live music and lots of liquor that spread across the south in the 20th century. The style of music associated with them dates back to the Depression era and is generally agreed to have originated in Texas.
The honky-tonk sound is defined by minimal instrumentals—usually nothing more than a prominent slide guitar and an acoustic guitar strumming out chords. The vocals and the lyrics are the focus of the songs. According to one site, "honky-tonk is country and western music denoted by its stripped down bare roots, twangy guitar sound and vocal delivery by turns almost painfully sorrowful or outrageously raucous."
The late and super-great Hank Williams defined honky-tonk as a genre in the 1930s and 1940s, and Lynn's great inspiration and collaborator Ernest Tubb carried on the tradition at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Another important influence on Lynn, Kitty Wells, began making a voice for women in country music with her 1952 hit "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels." (Wells' hit was a response to a spat of sexism in Hank Thompson's hit "The Wild Side of Life," which mocks and criticizes wild, hard-drinkin' women despite the constant valorization in honky-tonk music of hard-drinkin' men).
The 1970 recording of "Coal Miner's Daughter" starts out with a pretty basic honky-tonk formula: a banjo, a slide guitar, and Lynn's dominant, emotive voice over the first couple of verses. The song differs from the simplest form of honky-tonk due to an ooh-ing and aah-ing choir singing behind Lynn, and a tinny piano sound that is especially noticeable in live recordings.
Some draw a hard line between honky-tonk and a more commercially successful genre of "classic" country music that cannot be considered "real" honky-tonk. But "Coal Miner's Daughter" is a great example of Lynn's ability to stay close to her honky-tonking roots while also making albums that were hit material in a changing music scene.