Loretta Lynn’s most controversial song was one mirroring her real life. Released in 1975, “The Pill” was a protest song for women’s reproductive rights and remains one of the country icon’s most well-known hits, due to its still-fresh—at the time—and controversial subject matter.
“If I’d had the pill back when I was havin’ babies I’d have taken ’em like popcorn,” said Lynn who had already had six babies by 1964 when birth control was still in its infancy in the U.S. “The pill is good for people. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone’s, but I wouldn’t necessarily have had six and I sure would have spaced ’em better.”
Six was Enough
Written by T.D. Bayless, Don McHan, and Lorene Allen, Lynn related to the narrator in the song and her own decision to start using birth control, or the pill, since she was tired of having children with her husband. Lynn had six children, from 1948 through 1964, with her husband Oliver Lynn—four born before she was 20, and the birth of their last children together, twin daughters Peggy Jean and Patsy Eileen Lynn.
You wined me and dined me
When I was your girl
Promised if I’d be your wife
You’d show me the world
But all I’ve seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill
I’m tearin’ down your brooder house
‘Cause now I’ve got the pill
“It was rough,” said Lynn, recounting her earlier days on the road during a 2016 interview when she was 84. “I was working clubs, and I was doing like three and four shows a night, and I hadn’t been in the business but two years before I got pregnant, and I had twins. I’d play shows right up until the babies was born and that guitar around my neck just about killed me. I don’t advise it to any mother.”
Married for nearly 50 years to Oliver Lynn, until his death in 1996 at the age of 69, Lynn recounted in her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough, how her husband often cheated on her and once left her as she was giving birth.
All these years I’ve stayed at home
While you had all your fun
And every year that’s gone by
Another baby’s come
There’s a gonna be some changes made
Right here on nursery hill
You’ve set this chicken your last time
‘Cause now I’ve got the pill
Finding a Release
Originally recorded in 1972, it took Lynn several years to finally release ‘The Pill.” The song was held back by her label, and though birth control had been widely available for more than a decade, the more conservative country music world was not ready to celebrate the idea of female contraception.
Lynn eventually released the song as the only single off her 25th album Back to Country in 1975.
Once released, “The Pill” was banned on some radio stations until it became a hit for the country singer. “The Pill” topped the charts in Canadian and hit No. 5 on the Hot Country Singles chart and even made its way on the U.S. pop charts, reaching No. 70 on the Hot 100. “‘The Pill’ was banned, but when it hit the charts, they had to take it out of being banned,” said Lynn. “Everybody had to play it when it was on the charts.”
Live, Lynn would often perform a medley of her 1972 song “One’s on the Way,” a lament on her serial pregnancies, with “The Pill.”
Lynn said that medical professionals would often tell her that “The Pill” was more successful at promoting rural acceptance of birth control than any efforts by social services or official medical professionals.
Banned by the Grand Ole Opry?
In a 1975 Playgirl magazine interview, Lynn said that she nearly got banned from performing at the Grand Ole Opry because of the song.
“You know 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],” said Lynn, who became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. “If they hadn’t let me sing the song, I’d have told them to shove the Grand Ole Opry.”
In 1988, Lynn also performed the song on Dolly Parton’s variety show, Dolly, and again on The Roseanne Show in 1998.
In 1960, The Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive and within two years, 1.2 million American women were using “the pill.” By 1965, one out of every four married women in America under 45 was using the pill, and by 1967, nearly 13 million women in the world were using it. The numbers would reach 50 to 80 million women by 1984.
In 2015–2017, 64.9 percent, or 46.9 million of the 72.2 million women in the U.S., ages 15 to 49, were using some form of contraception, according to the CDC.
Photo: Credit David McClister / Legacy Recordings