Tammy Wynette reached the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” on June 29, 1968. Art was imitating life as Tammy was in the midst of a divorce with husband Don Chapel, but the tune resonated with listeners and spent three weeks atop the chart. And it helped establish Tammy as a “voice” that women could identify with.
In 1967, Tammy unleashed a string of No. 1 singles, including “My Elusive Dreams,” “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” and “Take Me to Your World.” When Tammy poured her heart out about “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” fans got the message. Six weeks after she released the tune, the aching ballad reached No. 1.
Tammy, like her predecessors Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells, was now a country music force, who eventually earned the title of “The First Lady of Country Music.”
‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ Spells Hit
Penned by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” literally spelled out a number of relatable words about the titular subject, as a mother shared her perspective on the impending spit. Of course, the words are spelled to hide the denotations from the couple’s young son.
The song’s first verse and chorus immediately “spell out” the situation: “Our little boy is four years old and quite a little man / So we spell out the words we don’t want him to understand / Like T-O-Y or maybe S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E / But the words we’re hiding from him now / Tear the heart right out of me / Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final today / Me and little J-O-E will be goin’ away / I love you both and it will be pure H-E double L for me / Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”
For future Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter Bobby Braddock, the tune was his first chart-topper. It also led to a longstanding alliance with Tammy. Bobby co-penned more than 20 tunes for her, including “Golden Ring” and “Womanhood.”
Tammy To The Top
“I had a song called ‘I L-O-V-E Y-O-U,'” said Bobby to Country Weekly in 2002. “Nothing ever happened with it, but it gave me the idea for ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E.’ I wanted something poignant about parents and children. I finished it in 1966 and recorded a demo. But nobody wanted anything to do with that one, either.”
Bobby shared the demo with his songwriting friend, Curly Putman, who had already found success penning Tammy’s “My Elusive Dreams” and Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home,” among others.
Curly helped Bobby alter the demo’s melody to give the song a more emotive sentiment.
“Curly didn’t change the melody much, but what he did change made all the difference in the world,” added Bobby. “We played the song for Billy Sherrill, who was Tammy Wynette’s record producer, and he took it immediately.”
During her career, Tammy would score more than a dozen more No. 1 singles, as well as another handful of chart-toppers with George Jones, whom she married in 1969—and divorced in 1975. Tammy, 55, was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998, shortly after she died on April 5, 1998.