Although most people relate to Dolly Parton as a country singer first and foremost, she also casts a formidable shadow as an actress, philanthropist and general business powerhouse. Writing many songs for other artists initially, Dolly musically kicked off her stellar career in 1967 with her debut album, “Hello, I’m Dolly”, segueing over to greater stardom with a series of duets albums with Porter Wagoner. All told, she has sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the most successful recording artists of all time.
Dolly Parton has topped the country charts with 25 number 1 singles, a record for female artists that she shares with Reba McEntire. Additionally, she has won 11 Grammys (from 50 nominations), and is among a small but honored group of individuals who have garnered nominations from the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards.
Beyond the work she does within the music industry, Dolly is the owner of The Dollywood Company (which includes the Dollywood theme park and more), and has founded numerous charitable organizations focused on bringing education and poverty relief to East Tennessee where she was raised.
Most recently, she topped the New York Times Bestseller list with “Run, Rose Run”, a novel co-authored with James Patterson.
As we’ve done in the past, join us to revive, relive, and relate to the best of Dolly Parton. Here we present ten classic tracks we appreciate the most (in no particular order). If you have a favorite that didn’t make our cut, feel free to share those suggestions within the comments at the bottom of this page. We’ll definitely take a listen!
NOTE: CLICK ON THE IMAGES FOR A VIDEO PERFORMANCE OF EACH SONG
9 TO 5 (1980)
The title song from the soundtrack of her film debut with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, this single garnered Dolly an Academy Award nomination as well as four Grammy Award nominations (she won two), becoming an anthem for office workers across the country. With the tune hitting the top of both the pop and country charts, Parton was only the second woman to top both charts, with the first being Jeannie C. Riley’s smash “Harper Valley PTA” in 1968. Earlier this year, Dolly joined forces with Kelly Clarkson to record a new version for a television documentary. 9/10
Peak Position in the US – #1 (Billboard Hot 100 & Country Charts)
LOVE IS LIKE A BUTTERFLY (1974)
If you’re like me (age-wise or alternatively have good research skills), you’ll remember or find that this song was the introduction theme song from Dolly’s mid-seventies variety show. The single became her fourth number one country hit (her third in a row) and has since weaved its way into her persona for the past nearly 50 years. 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
TWO DOORS DOWN (1978)
Nothing says “country hit” better than a breakup song (maybe one with a truck, dog, or alcohol thrown in perhaps). Parton took it one step further by showing us that a breakup can lead to a new frontier so to speak…two doors down. Early copies of the song’s parent album “Here You Come Again” became a sort of collector’s item as Parton later replaced a more country-fied version of TDD with a looser, disco-tinged version. 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #19 (Billboard Hot 100) / #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
The metal and glass doors of the bank swing in. Perhaps a bell above the door rings. She’d been waiting patiently outside for what seemed an excessive amount of time. When she looks across the lobby, she sees her newlywed husband talking with a red-headed bank clerk who seems to be excessively friendly with him. This was the inspiration, according to Parton, for her second number one solo single, “Jolene”. The single is featured on Rolling Stone’s list of the “Greatest Songs of All Time” and is Dolly’s most covered track (Olivia Newton-John, The White Stripes, Mindy Smith, & Lil Nas X among the most popular covers). 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #60 (Billboard Hot 100) / #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
STARTING OVER AGAIN (1980)
Surprisingly, this ballad was written by “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer with her husband and tells the story of Summer’s in-law’s separation after 30 years of marriage. Gradually building to a dramatic finale, the track was lifted as the first single from Dolly’s 1980 album “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly”, and hit number one in May of 1980. The track was later covered by Reba McEntire in 1995 and was featured on her album “Starting Over”. 8/10
Peak Position in the US – #36 (Billboard Hot 100) / #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
HERE YOU COME AGAIN (1977)
The title track from Dolly’s 1977 album has a unique feature that is lacking with most of her other biggest hits. Unlike most of her singles before it, this song was not written by Parton, but rather by the husband/wife songwriting team of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (“Christmas Vacation” theme, “Don’t Know Much”, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”), and was initially planned as a comeback hit for Brenda Lee. When Lee passed on recording it, Dolly eventually acquired and recorded it, adding steel guitars to the arrangement to not stray too far into pop crossover territory. As you see below, the results on both charts speak for themselves. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #3 (Billboard Hot 100) / #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
COAT OF MANY COLORS (1971)
While on tour in 1969 with Porter Wagoner, lyrics to this classic came to Dolly’s mind, but without a scrap of paper handy, she ended up writing the lyrics on the back of a dry-cleaning receipt, which Wagoner later had framed. It tells the poignant story of how Dolly’s mother stitched together rags obtained from the family to make a coat for her young daughter, tying in the biblical story of Joseph and his “coat of many colors” as she painstakingly put the garment together. Excited, the child went to school in her new coat, and was ridiculed by her fellow students for wearing the coat made of rags. The lesson in the song? Wealth is not always about money. The song peaked on the country chart at #4 and is listed on Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” at #263. 7/10
Peak Position in the: US: #4 (Billboard Country Chart)
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (1983)
Originally arranged in an R&B style for ex-Supreme Diana Ross, “Islands in the Stream” was reworked into the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet we are all familiar with today. Inspired by the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, and written by BeeGees Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb, the single was a stunning success for both artists, ultimately achieving double platinum status on the country, pop, and adult-contemporary charts. In 2005, the track topped CMT’s list of greatest country duets of all time. Rogers and Parton continued to work together subsequent with a Christmas album as well as the hit “Real Love” in 1985. 10/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 (Billboard Hot 100 & Country Charts)
I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU (1974)
I imagine our younger readers will see the song title and immediately associate it with Whitney Houston’s jaw-dropping rendition from her 1992 film “The Bodyguard”, but this Dolly Parton song was written in 1973 and (surprisingly) had nothing to do with romantic love. It was actually composed as a farewell to Porter Wagoner, her business partner and mentor at the beginning of her career, reflecting her decision to pursue a solo career. The single topped the country charts for Dolly on two separate occasions (June of 1974 and October of 1982 when it was featured on the soundtrack to her film “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”), Interesting enough, this song was written on the same day as Dolly wrote “Jolene”. 10/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 (Billboard Country Chart)
HE’S ALIVE (1989)
Produced by bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, “I’m Alive” is a cover version of Don Francisco’s Christian classic, a song that tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the perspective of Peter. Included on her 1989 release “White Limozeen”, her performance of the song at the CMT Awards that year can only be described as chill-inducing. It truly is that good, and fully deserved the standing ovation it received that night. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #39 (Billboard Country Chart)
So, there you have it. What are your thoughts on our favorite 10 Dolly Parton songs? What others do you recommend? Leave your thoughts via a comment on the page!
Before you leave, please check out our previous entries in the “Our Ten” series here on Moteventure!