Loretta Lynn personally chose Sissy Spacek to play her in Coal Miner’s Daughter based only on a photo. The country singer didn’t know the work of the Texas-born actress, work that included some of the most iconic films of the 70s like Carrie and Badlands (and I’m going to work in a shout out to the vastly underrated Prime Cut here as well), and she certainly didn’t know if the actress could sing. It turns out that not only could Spacek sing, she had a previous career as a singer/songwriter in the late 60s.
The young girl, fresh-faced and strawberry-haired, got out of Texas not to be an actress but to be a singer. She moved to New York City, acoustic guitar slung over her shoulder, and began singing in Greenwich Village’s coffeehouses. She also made money singing backup on commercial jingles, the kind of infectiously catchy songs that once permeated the airwaves.
She billed herself as Rainbo, and she was ready to make the leap to the big time. In 1968 she got that chance and was able to record her first single. If it had been a hit all of movie history might have been rewritten. But instead of a hit, Rainbo released a single that sank. A single that made fun of John Lennon.
In 1968 John Lennon shocked the world with the cover of his new album, Two Virgins. On it he stood next to his new wife Yoko Ono stark naked, both fully exposed. The back cover was the reverse angle, showing the pasty butts of John and Yoko. You have to put this in some context - 1968 was only four years after a fresh-faced Lennon and the Beatles had conquered America while wearing suits on the Ed Sullivan Show. The world was scandalized.
Rainbo sang about it in John, You Went Too Far This Time, a song from the point of view of a teeny bopper who had been loyal to John Lennon all along:
Everything you asked of me, I did, John
From holding hands to living in a sunlight submarine
And you were something special when you said, John,
That you had more disciples than the man who was too green
But this album cover was too much for Rainbo.. or maybe it awoke things in her she never imagined being awoken:
Now I gaze in awe before that picture
My mind retires to the place it was before you came
I love the things you showed me up til now, John
But since that picture, I don't think my love will be the same
The music and arrangement is a play on the Beatles’ latter-era baroque pop sound, and the lyrics are full of thuddingly punny references to Beatle history. It’s not a very good song, although in Spacek’s defense she didn’t actually write it. She does get a writing credit on the B-side of the single (or C. Spacek does, anyway), C’Mon Teach Me To Live.
John, You’ Went Too Far This Time was part of a legacy of Beatles-oriented novelty records, but it never cracked the charts. Rainbo’s label immediately dropped her and Sissy Spacek began hanging out at Andy Warhol’s Factory. She got an interest in acting, and eventually she ended up at the legendary Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, where she made the connections that led to her first film role, a girl sold into sexual slavery in Prime Cut. That led to her getting a part on the Waltons and from there her career blossomed, leading eventually to Loretta Lynn pointing at her picture. The woman once known as Rainbo, who couldn’t get any radio play in 1968, won an Oscar in 1981 for a role where she did all her own singing.