Kitty Wells was speaking the God’s honest truth when she sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
On this date in 1952, she recorded the song that was written J.D. Miller, and ultimately became the the first #1 Billboard country hit for a solo female artist.
Kitty was reluctant to even record it because the content was quite suggestive for the time, but went ahead with it mainly because she wanted to get paid. I respect that. Her career wasn’t going quite the way she wanted it to at the time, and she was actually considering retirement because of it.
She only agreed to do the session at Owen Bradley’s studio because of the $125 union scale recording payment.
It definitely worked out for her, though, because it basically launched her career and sent her into country music superstardom. Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn both credit her with being the greatest female country singer of all-time, and inspiring hem to start their own country music careers.
And as it turns out, the song was created as a response to Hank Thompson’s 1952 song “The Wild Side Of Life”, where he laments his supposed cheating wife.
In Thompson’s song, he sings:
“I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels,
I might have known you’d never make a wife,
You gave up the only one that ever loved you,
And went back to the wild side of life”
The chorus in Wells’ version goes like this:
“It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels,
As you wrote in the words of your song,
Too many times married men think they’re still single,
And that has caused many a good girl to go wrong”
The searing, unapologetic sass in the chorus is genius. Ladies, how many times have you felt like the crazy one in a relationship when it turns out, you were right about whatever it was the entire time?
We’ve probably all felt like that before, and this song sums up all those feelings perfectly. If women felt like that in the 50’s, don’t hold your breathe that it will ever change… but at least it makes for really good music.
I absolutely love this performance she did at the Grand Ole Opry many decades ago, which is also one of the only performances or recordings of her version of the song you can find these days:
Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette teamed up for a collaborative album and used this song as inspiration for the title track, and they released Honky Tonk Angels in 1993.
Their cover is pretty damn incredible, too: