Activist and regular Osocio reader Jenn F. reminded me today that 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of one of country music’s great protest songs. It wasn’t about the war that was then raging in Southeast Asia. It wasn’t about the working man’s blues. It was about the single most important medical breakthrough in women’s reproductive choice: the birth control pill.
Recorded in 1972 by Loretta Lynn, by then a mother of six, “The Pill” was actually written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan, and T. D. Bayless. But like her contemporary Johnny Cash, Ms. Lynn had a way of making other people’s words deeply personal by relating them to her own life.
Her record label, MCA, initially refused to release the song. It didn’t appear on vinyl until 1975, when it was included on the album Back to the Country and promoted as the album’s only single. Many country stations refused to play the song, which prevented it from reaching #1 on the charts, but then as now the PR value of the scandal gave the censorship the opposite of its intended effect. In a 1975 interview with Playgirl magazine, Ms. Lynn said that “medical professionals routinely told her that ‘The Pill’ had done more to promote rural acceptance of birth control than any official medical or social services efforts.”
Unexpectedly, 40 years on, the pill has once again become an issue in American society. Republican Presidential candidates and their supporters are attempting to appeal to the religious right with attacks on accessibility, morality, and even legality of the pill that has done so much for women’s independence from the cycle of unplanned pregnancy.
It’s also a great reminder that country music’s finest moments have come when it has been a medium for rebellion rather than reactionism.