The greatest answer song ever recorded ended up eclipsing its source and opening up its genre. Earlier in 1952, Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” had been an enormous country hit that chastised a “honky tonk angel” for giving up her chances of domesticity and hanging out in “the places where the wine and liquor flow.” There wasn’t much of a market for country records by women at the time, but the little-known Kitty Wells was commissioned to sing a response that set Thompson straight: “Too many times married men think they’re still single.”
Wells torched it. Her performance stays well within the strict parameters demanded by the likes of the Grand Ole Opry, but you can feel her frustration and resentment bubbling over the edges of the song. (The Opry, in fact, briefly banned it on the grounds of suggestiveness.) “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” lit a fire under Wells’ career; even more important, it single-handedly carved out a space for women’s voices — and frustrations — in country music.
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