Study Guide

Coal Miner's Daughter Technique

  • Music

    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. So, the vocals and the lyrics are the focus of the songs.

    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's especially noticeable in live recordings.

    Some draw a hard line between honky-tonk and a more commercially successful genre of "classic" country music that can't 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.

  • Songwriting

    Some people say that when Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield, he based the main character on his own life story. Same goes for Tennessee Williams' play, "A Streetcar Named Desire."

    Loretta Lynn has some songs like this—fictionalized or semi-fictionalized accounts of things that are really personal to her. Most of her songs draw from some real part of her life experience.

    Lynn said in an interview, "With every song I've ever written, there's a part of me in it. Of course, I'm not going to say what all they were 'cause it would be hard to even do that, but I know there’s a part of me in every song I've wrote, if it's just half a line." (Source)

    Another time she said, "I write about life. And, boy, I got in all kinds of trouble. But that's what people are interested in. They're not interested in fantasy stuff." (Source) The trouble she's talking about is with her song, "The Pill," a tune about female birth control that got her banned from many a radio station. 

    But "Coal Miner's Daughter" isn't just a song based on or inspired by Lynn's personal experience. Instead, the song is directly about her personal experience: it tells the real story of Lynn's life growing up. It's true autobiography, closer to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin or even The Diary of Anne Frank than David Copperfield. 

    As one of the best-known female country singers ever, Lynn paved the way for other women to sing songs about their own personal stories. When you hear Taylor Swift singing about being "a careless man's careful daughter," or Dolly Parton riffing on hard work or heartbreak, the inspiration and influence of "Coal Miner's Daughter" is probably there.