This #1 Country hit by Tammy Wynette was written by the southern songwriting duo of Robert Valentine (Bobby) Braddock and Claude "Curly" Putman, Jr. As a songwriting pair, Braddock and Putman's other big hit was "He Stopped Loving Her Today
," performed by Wynette's third husband George Jones, and which is considered by many to be the greatest Country single of all time, and at the very least, the apotheosis of heartbreaking Country songs. In the span of his career, Bobby Braddock was responsible for 13 #1 hit singles. Curly Putman's most famous hit was "Green, Green Grass of Home," made famous by renditions by Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis.
"D-I-V-O-R-C-E" is a confessional piece about the breakup of a marriage written from a woman's perspective. Wynette spells out words like "C-U-S-T-O-D-Y" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" in an attempt to hide this adult reality from her four-year-old son. It would seem, from the line, "I love you both, and it will be pure H.E. double L for me," that she is not the one that wants to leave.
Wynette, mother of three and veteran of two broken marriages by 1968 (that very year she had an annulment) had the authentic life experience to bring across Braddock and Putman's lyrics with wisdom and sincerity, after being married at 17 and a mother of three (and divorcee) three years later. Her capacity to relate to this song on a fundamental level continued until her fifth marriage to the singer-songwriter George Richey, who wrote some of Wynette's hits in the 1970s, including Wynette's 15th number #1 Country hit, "Til I Can Make It on My Own" (1976). One man who did not propose was Burt Reynolds, with whom Wynette had a brief tryst in the late '70s.
Wynette was known as "The First Lady of Country Music," and she was important to the Country scene as a spokeswoman for neglected female perspectives and values in the late 1960s and '70s. After the song's release in May 1968, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" quickly gained popularity due to Wynette's vocal charms, and a month later reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, also placing at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became the title song of Wynette's third studio album, also released in 1968 to high acclaim, reaching #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
It was July 20, 1968 when this song peaked on the Hot 100 at #63. On February 1, 1969, Wynette reached #19 with a song she co-wrote with Billy Sherrill: "Stand By Your Man
." Talk about mixed messages!
A parody version "D.I.V.O.R.C.E" by the famous Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, released in 1975, spelled out the lighter side of a similar situation, only this time the child was substituted for a beloved pet. Connolly, who included humorous songs as a part of his act until the early 1980, made the connection that people often spell out words they don't want their pets to hear, like "V-E-T" and "W-O-R-M." There are strong similarities between the two songs in the lyrics. For example, Wynette sings, "Our little boy is four years old, and quite a little man." Connolly's parody goes, "Our little dog is six years old, and he's smart as any damn kid." In Connolly's song, an argument about sending the dog to the "V-E-T" becomes grounds for getting a "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." Unlike Wynette's tearful departure, Connolly's soon to be ex-wife "sank her teeth in my B-U-M, and called me an effin C." The dog also attacks him.
In the UK, Wynette enjoyed a resurgence in 1975, with a newly-released "Stand By Your Man" going to #1 and this song following to #12.
Braddock told Rolling Stone Country how Putman's advice on the melody helped the song take off: "I had a song called 'I L-O-V-E-Y-O-U (Do I Have to Spell It Out for You)' and hit kind of a snag. But that song did eventually get written and Tammy Wynette recorded it a few years later. I got the idea of a couple that spells in front of their kid so the kid won't hear all this disturbing stuff about his parents getting a divorce. Months went by and nobody recorded it. I asked Curly Putman why nobody was recording the song. He said the melody for the title line was too happy. The melody I had for the song was sort of like a soap commercial. Curly's got this real lonesome, sad voice as a singer and he [sang a mournful melody]. He didn't want to take any part of the song or put his name on it, because he was more established than I was, but we compromised and he took 25 percent and put his name on it. It was not very long at all before Tammy recorded it. It was my first #1. Looking back on it now, I think the song's pretty corny. But I was glad to have it."