“Coal Miner’s Daughter” tells the story of her life growing up “in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler”, while her father, Melvin “Ted” Webb, worked all night in the Van Lear coal mine. The song depicts the real story of Lynn’s life growing up in rural Kentucky, and discusses how she and her seven siblings lived off of a coal miner’s salary (“Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner’s pay“), and that her father always made sure there was love in the Webb household.
Subsequent verses recall Lynn’s other childhood experiences and hardships, such as her mother reading the Bible by a coal-oil light or having bloody fingers from constantly doing the laundry using an abrasive “warsh”board (this pronunciation was reflective of her Appalachian Kentucky roots), ordering shoes from a mail-order catalog, and working so hard every day that everyone slept because “they were tired.”
In the song’s final verse, the now-adult Lynn returns to her homestead, which has since been abandoned (“Not much left but the floor; nothing lives here anymore …“). However, she remarks that the “memories of a coal miner’s daughter” remain.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” was unlike anything Lynn had ever recorded previously. She had become known for her sassy back-talking songs, including “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” (an angry-wife’s warning to a hard-drinking husband not to come home drunk and intent on making love) and “Fist City” (wherein a married woman threatens her husband’s would-be temptress). However, fans quickly reacted to the song with praise and turned the song into one of country music’s iconic hits.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” served as the name of Lynn’s 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter: The Autobiography, which Lynn co-wrote. The song title also served as the name of Lynn’s 1980 biographical motion picture on her life,Coal Miner’s Daughter. The movie starred actress Sissy Spacek as Lynn and Tommy Lee Jones as Lynn’s husband. The film’s soundtrack featured Spacek singing all of Lynn’s hits sung in the movie, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Spacek won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynn in the film.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” helped provide a better understanding of Lynn, and led to the widespread fascination with her life story.
The song was listed at No. 185 on RIAA’s list of Songs of the Century and was also listed in 2003’s TV special at No. 13 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music.
In 2010 the Library of Congress put “Coal Miner’s Daughter” on the National Recording Registry.
Well, I was borned a coal miner’s daughter
In a cabin, on a hill in Butcher Holler
We were poor but we had love
That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of
He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar
My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines
All day long in the field a hoin’ corn
Mommy rocked the babies at night
And read the Bible by the coal oil light
And ever’ thing would start all over come break of morn
Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner’s pay
Mommy scrubbed our clothes on a washboard ever’ day
Why I’ve seen her fingers bleed
To complain, there was no need
She’d smile in mommy’s understanding way
In the summertime we didn’t have shoes to wear
But in the wintertime we’d all get a brand new pair
From a mail order catalog
Money made from selling a hog
Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere
Yeah, I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter
I remember well, the well where I drew water
The work we done was hard
At night we’d sleep ’cause we were tired
I never thought of ever leaving Butcher Holler
Well a lot of things have changed since a way back then
And it’s so good to be back home again
Not much left but the floor, nothing lives here anymore
Except the memory of a coal miner’s daughter