Tammy Wynette is best known for one song: “Stand By Your Man.” The hit created a stir with feminists when it debuted in October, 1968, and in the years following its release the singer would famously say time and again that she spent “fifteen minutes writing it, and a lifetime defending it,” vehemently denying that the song hints at male chauvinism.
It’s undeniable that Wynette’s promoters did all they could to capitalize on the public’s conclusions about “Stand By Your Man,” as evidenced by many similar hits that followed like “The Ways to Love a Man,” and “My Man (Understands).” But it’s important to note that Wynette was a lot more than the public’s view of “Stand By Your Man.” And it’s especially fascinating to look at her discography prior to the release of the song that completely reshaped her career.
Take Me to Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House, Wynette’s second release, is her richest album prior to “Stand By Your Man”— it delivers several excellent songs, and, most importantly, puts the singer’s complexities on full display. The album is most interesting because it hints at one particular theme that echoed not just “Stand By Your Man,” but Wynette’s personal life as well: the conflicted sense of independence and dependence on a man that strongly mirrored her life, the portrait of a woman with a strong mind, yet torn by gender-traditional values.
It’d be a far cry to try to make the argument that Take Me to Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House was meant to be a concept album, consciously dealing with gender issues. Rather, one should understand this album by taking into account the following: Wynette’s personal life and the ways it mirrored her songs, and the singer’s targeted audience, working to middle-class, and rural to suburban women. But though Wynette is not credited with any of the songwriting on this album, many songs on the record directly resonated with her personal life.
By the time Take Me to Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House was released, Wynette was a mother of three, and fast approaching her second divorce. So when Tammy, the product of an upbringing that sternly looked down on divorce, sang “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” her first number one hit as solo artist, there’s no doubt she felt every word of the heartbreaking story she was singing about. Referring to the times she had to perform the song live, Wynette once said: “There’s been many a time I’ve almost had to stop it.” This song can be viewed as the defining track on the album: lamenting, but not necessarily regretting a broken marriage.
The most common theme on Wynette’s second album is the on and off presence of a male partner. “Good” and “Take Me to Your World” are hopeful songs that depict a male as a savior; in each Wynette assumes the role of a morally degraded woman, admitting things like “temptation comes easy to a woman like me,” and that she’s in search of a male companion who can take her “away from bar rooms filled with smoke.”
But while Wynette may present males as moral saviors, more often, she explains that men have let her down— and shows she won’t stand by just any man. “The Phone Call” is the mysterious story of a young woman frantically calling her mother from an unknown location, revealing: “I’m alright, you see, you know how he’s mistreated me.” “I Don’t Wanna Play House” is the heartbreaking tale of the effects of a broken marriage. And “Fuzy Wuzzy Ego” and “Broadminded" are numbers that channel the feistiness of Loretta Lynn and challenge gender double standards of the time.
As was common at the time, Take Me to Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House features a number of covers. In the late sixties, country musicians often released multiple albums per year, and covers of popular hits were both an easy way to fill out an album, and draw appeal on the success of already known songs. “Cry” is an excellent cover of Johnnie Ray’s 1951 hit, whereas “Ode to Billie Joe” is a failing, distracted impersonation of Bobbie Gentry’s haunting song.
Every country fan should give Take Me to Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House a listen— for not only is it a fun listen, but it’s a testament to the complexity of one of the greatest singers country’s ever seen.