Written by Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn’s 1970 classic “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is honest-to-goodness country. With the famous first line, “Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter”, Lynn introduced a snapshot of her cherished childhood, an anthem for those who lived a miner’s life and an inspiration for all those who connected with the hard-working times portrayed in the song.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” tells the story of Loretta’s life growing up in Butcher Holler while her father worked nights in the Van Lear coalmine. Her rural roots shine through as she expresses a real appreciation for her childhood, even though the times were tough. She tells of her father’s sacrifice in the coal mines for the family, and her mother’s devotion to the household chores, the words of the Bible, and most importantly her children.
Her parents struggled to make ends meet, and would scrape up the money just for new shoes in the winter and food on the table, but she remembers these times with sweetness rather than sorrow. They were often tired and troubled, but Daddy always made sure there was love in their little cabin and Mama’s kind smile was a lasting comfort. In the song’s final verse, Loretta returns to her home (it’s nice to be back again, she says) where nothing remains but the “memories of a coal miner’s daughter”.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” was a departure from Loretta’s earlier material, which tended to consist of tough songs with a healthy helping of attitude. That did nothing to slow its success. Upon the song’s release in mid-1970, country music fans gravitated to her riveting tale. The song reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart just before Christmas 1970, also became Lynn’s first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” served as the name of Lynn’s 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter: The Autobiography, which Lynn co-wrote, and the book eventually became the inspiration for the 1980 movie featuring Sissy Spacek as Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones as her hard-driving, yet loving husband, Doolittle Lynn. Its success served as a tribute to the feisty spirit and the unique upbringing of its inspiration.
Loretta Lynn’s autobiographical tune of triumph and determination remains one of country music’s best examples of storytelling. As Lynn told Reader’s Digest in 2006, “I wouldn’t trade that life for nothing I’ve done since I’ve been married. That was a great life. The way I was raised made me what I am.”
In many ways, Loretta Lynn made country music what it is, one true-to-life story at a time.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.