It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

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"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"
Single by Kitty Wells
ReleasedJune 1952 (United States)
RecordedMay 3, 1952
Castle Studios,
Nashville, Tennessee
Songwriter(s)J. D. "Jay" Miller
Producer(s)Paul Cohen
Kitty Wells singles chronology
"Glory Land March"
"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"
"Paying For That Back Street Affair"

"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" is a 1952 country song written by J. D. "Jay" Miller, and originally recorded by Kitty Wells. It was an answer song to the Hank Thompson hit "The Wild Side of Life."

The song — which blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women[1] — became the first No. 1 Billboard country hit for a solo woman artist. In addition to helping establish Wells as country music's first major woman star, "It Wasn't God..." paved the way for other women artists, particularly Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette,[1] and songs where women call out unfaithful men.

It was preserved by the National Recording Registry in 2007.

Song history[edit]

In the late 1940s, Wells had recorded on RCA Victor, but had little success there. By 1952, she was recording on Decca Records, and recorded "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" at her first recording session.[2]

In "The Wild Side of Life," Thompson expresses regret his bride-to-be has left him for another man whom she met in a roadhouse, stating, "I didn't know that God made honky tonk angels." That song and its appeal to people who "thought the world was going to hell and that faithless women deserved a good deal of the blame...just begged for an answer from a woman".[3]

The rebuttal song, as it turned out, was written by Jay Miller, although it was Wells who made it a hit.[3] In "It Wasn't God..." – which follows the same melody, but more uptempo – she cites the original song and counters that, for every woman who had been led astray, it was a man who led her there (often through his own infidelity). She also expresses frustration about how women are always made scapegoats for the man's faults in a given relationship.


It wasn't God who made honky tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they're still single
And that's caused many a good girl to go wrong


Wells' statement was a rather daring one to make in 1952, particularly in the conservative, male-dominated realm of country music; women's liberation and their sentiments in song were still more than 10 years away.[4] There was plenty of resistance to the song and its statement: the NBC radio network banned the song for being "suggestive," while Wells was prohibited from performing it on the Grand Ole Opry and NBC's "Prince Albert" radio program.[3]

Yet Wells struck a chord with her fans, as "It Wasn't God..." went to number one for six weeks on Billboard magazine's country charts.[5] In topping the charts, Wells became the first woman to ever accomplish the feat, at least as a solo act; if all female singers are considered, then Margaret Whiting gets the honor (in a 1949 duet No. 1 with Jimmy Wakely called "Slippin' Around").[6]

Wells was at first reluctant to record the song, but eventually agreed, if only to get the standard $125 session fee payment. Eventually, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels" outsold Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life," and launched the then little-known Wells to stardom. Years later, Wells told an interviewer she was shocked over the song's success and endurance. "Women never had hit records in those days. Very few of them even recorded. I couldn't believe it happened," she said.[3]

Historian Charles Wolfe noted "It Wasn't God..." was one of the few notable exceptions to the rule of an answer song not enjoying the same success as the original.[7]

A familiar melody[edit]

"The Wild Side of Life" and "It Wasn't God ..." are set to an apparently traditional tune used in the song "Thrills That I Can't Forget" recorded by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in 1925, and more familiarly in the Carter Family's "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" recorded in February, 1929, as well as the Rev. Guy Smith's "Great Speckled Bird"—popularized in 1936 by Roy Acuff.[8] In view of the common associations and Wells' 1959 "Great Speckled Bird" recording, the correspondence was hardly accidental.[9]

The connection between these songs is noted in the David Allan Coe song "If That Ain't Country" that ends with the lyrics "I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes/ Concerning a great speckled bird/ I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels/ and went back to the wild side of life."

In addition to Wells' vocals, husband Johnnie Wright played bass guitar and Jack Anglin played rhythm guitar. Paul Warren played fiddle and Shot Jackson played steel guitar, traits prevalent on many of Wells' biggest hits.[2][8]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1952) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[10] 27
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[11] 1

The song ranked #51 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003.

Cover versions[edit]

Several cover versions of the song have been recorded, including the following:

  • In 1971, Lynn Anderson also recorded a version of the song that became a Top 20 hit for her, for the album Songs That Made Country Girls Famous.[6]
  • In 1973, Skeeter Davis recorded the song for her album The Hillbilly Singer.
  • In 1976, Marianne Faithful recorded a version of the song in her album Dreamin' My Dreams also later reissued as Faithless but it is named as Honky Tonk Angels in both recordings. GACD 9.00545.
  • In 1981, the two songs ("Wild Side of Life" and "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels") were combined into a duet by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter on their album Leather and Lace. That song reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.[6]
  • In 1985, The two songs were also covered by the folk / rockabilly band The Knitters (a side project of the seminal LA punk band X) on a compilation album "Radio Tokyo Tapes, Vol. 3."
  • Wells made a cameo guest-vocalist appearance on a cover version recorded by Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, for the album Honky Tonk Angels and released as a single.[12] Wells also appeared in a video for the song, which has aired on The Nashville Network, CMT and Great American Country.
  • Early in her career, a then little known Parton also recorded a solo version of the song, including it on a 1963 Kitty Wells/Patsy Cline tribute album.
  • In 2014, Lasse Stefanz covered the song as "Älska, glömma och förlåta" on their Honky Tonk Rebels album.


  1. ^ a b Brian Mansfield. "Kitty Wells | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  2. ^ a b Davis, Bill and Ronnie Pugh of the Country Music Foundation, liner notes for From the Vaults: Decca Country Classics 1934-1973, 1994.
  3. ^ a b c d Kingsbury, Paul, "The Grand Ole Opry History of Country Music: 70 Years of the Songs, the Stars and the Stories," Opryland USA, Villard Books, Random House, New York, 1995.
  4. ^ Malone, Bill C., "Country Music USA," 2nd revised ed. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 2002.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 376.
  6. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel, "Top Country Songs: 1944-2005," 2006.
  7. ^ Kingsbury, Paul and Alanna Nash, eds., "Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music in America," DK Publishing, New York, 2006.
  8. ^ a b Malone, Bill, "Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection" ((booklet included with Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection 4-disc set). Smithsonian Institution, 1990).
  9. ^ In other words "The Wild Side of Life," "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," "Thrills That I Can't Forget," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," and "The Great Speckled Bird" all use the same tune.
  10. ^ "Kitty Wells Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  11. ^ "Kitty Wells Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  12. ^ Kelly McCartney (1993-11-02). "Honky Tonk Angels - Dolly Parton | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-01-07.

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