Country Radio Still Won’t Play Loretta Lynn’s ‘The Pill’
YouLoretta Lynn, a country singer and songwriter from 1975 was one of the most prominent figures in country music. She released “The Pill” which was immediately banned on many radio stations. The song, “The Pill,” was an ode to birth control and sexual freedom that shocked the industry and many of the genre’s more conservative listeners with lyrics like:
Lynn was a pioneer in country music, and a role model for future generations of singers and songwriters. Despite the controversy surrounding its release, “The Pill,” would become Lynn’s highest-charting pop single, peaking at #70 on the Hot 100.
But as conservative social norms have ossified around the country music establishment, “The Pill” is still forsaken nearly fifty years since it was released. According to Luminate (formerly Nielsen Music), the song was played just once by a country radio station in the U.S. in 2022, even though it’s a classic of the genre. The song—and Lynn’s career as a provocative lyricist—serve as a reminder that the conservative values touted by the country music establishment don’t always match those of their artists or listeners.
Cultural Dividement in 1970s
When Lynn wrote “The Pill,” she was a constant presence atop the country charts. She had 12 songs on the Billboard U.S. Country Top 5 between 1970 and 1974. Lynn was a singer who celebrated the simple life in rural America. However, her ability to inject humor and life into difficult topics such as female lust or cheating is widely recognized. Lynn, after writing “The Pill,” told TIME she didn’t think it was out of line with her body of work: “It isn’t as dirty as some of my other songs. I wrote one the other day that is so dirty I have to close my eyes when I sing it,” she said in a 1975 interview.
Birth control, however, was still controversial in conservative communities. In 1972, the landmark decision in Eisenstadt v BairdThis was because it wasn’t available in the many rural areas Lynn had strong support. Lynn herself had noted in the 1971 song “One’s On The Way” that the feminist revolution of the 1970s had been slow to come to many parts of America:
Given the culture divide and tense political climate, Lynn’s record label MCA didn’t release “The Pill” for three years until after she had recorded it. And when it was finally released, Lynn tried to make clear that the song wasn’t a rejection of family values. The song’s lyrics, in fact, argue that birth control enables the song’s protagonist—a faithful wife exhausted from years of childbirth—to be a better partner and mother. Lynn herself was married at 13 and went through a taxing period of pregnancies: “I had four kids before I was 18. If I had had the Pill, I would’ve been popping it like popcorn,” she told TIME.
However, the song still caused chaos in conservative parts. PeopleThe Magazine stated that the song was banned by 60 stations and featured a story about a West Liberty preacher who dedicated a sermon denoncing it. Lynn told Playgirl that the song nearly got her kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry: “I sung it three times at the Grand Ole Opry one night, and I found out a week later that the Grand Ole Opry had a three-hour meeting, and they weren’t going to let me [sing it]… If they hadn’t let me sing the song, I’d have told them to shove the Grand Ole Opry!”
‘I learned that from Loretta’
The controversy and hand-wringing did not spark interest. However, the song began to be played on the pop radio after its release. In the end, “The Pill” became the biggest crossover hit of Lynn’s career. It is inspiring younger country music artists to share stories that speak directly to them, even decades later. “Country music definitely had a history of the people who were shootin’ straight and telling the stories without any sort of gloss on them, whether it’s “The Pill” or other songs,” the Chicks’ Emily Strayer told NPR in 2020. Notably, The Chicks were blacklisted by the country music industry for criticizing George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Miranda Lambert told Taste of Country this year that her early song “Gunpowder & Lead” was inspired by “The Pill”: “Abuse is not something everyone talks about. Loretta taught me that lesson. I mean, she wrote ‘The Pill’ when you weren’t supposed to be talking about that stuff.”
In June, the Supreme Court ruled to reverse this decision.Roe V. Wade, Maren Morris tweetedShe was protesting the song by listening to it.
The song has been largely abandoned by country radio because it is considered groundbreaking. According to Luminate the song received 95 spins in the U.S. since 2022. Most of these spins came from Triple A or College Radio formats. Only one spin was recorded on a Country station. By contrast, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” has 1.3K spins so far this year on U.S. radio.
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