Dolly Parton: Big Hair, Big Personality and Even Bigger ... Hits
by Linda Ryan | January 31, 2011
Since the late 1960s, Dolly Parton has been charming people with her sweet Tennessee voice not to mention her bubbly personality and straight talk. The '70s saw her stand on her own, allowing us the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better. By the time the '80s rolled around, Parton was a music phenomenon, crossing over into charts with such regularity, she made it look downright easy. The '90s saw her retrace her country roots, where she has comfortably spent the first ten years of the new millennium.
With 40-plus years in the music business behind her, Parton has truly become a country and pop music icon. Describe her in three words? How about: Larger. Than. Life. Whether you are talking about her voice, her personality, her success, her recorded output and yes, her hair and her figure the words larger than life seem to fit.
January 19 marked Dolly Parton's 65th birthday, so what better time to look back at some of the icon's biggest hits and most endearing songs.
"The Last Thing on My Mind"
This was Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton's first single, and for many, the song served as their first introduction to Parton. She was hired to replace the recently departed Norma Jean, and it took a while for Wagoner's audience to warm up to Parton. This single was released in late 1967, and by January 1968 had reached the Top 10 in the country music charts. It was an auspicious beginning to what would become one of the most successful duos in country music.
"Mule Skinner Blues"
By the time 1970 rolled around, Parton had a number of hits as part of the Wagoner/Parton duo, but success as a solo artist eluded her. Eventually, she tried her hand at the twanging Jimmie Rodgers classic "Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)" and finally broke through. Was it her yodel? Was it the railroad-like chugging rhythms? Was it the wild fiddle? Whatever it was, the song peaked at No. 3 on the charts.
"Joshua" was Parton's first No. 1 song, and the chart-topping victory was made even sweeter by the fact that Parton penned the ditty herself. With a strong sonic resemblance to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," "Joshua" tells the tale of an orphan girl who falls in love with a misunderstood loner named Joshua. The song is colored with vivid imagery of a rundown shack by the railroad tracks, and one can't help but think this backdrop was lifted from Parton's real life, where 12 children were raised in the tiny house her sharecropper father and mother called home in Locust Ridge, Tenn.
"Jolene" was Dolly Parton's first bona-fide blockbuster of a song. Released in late 1973, "Jolene" hit the top of the charts in early 1974. The song was partially inspired by a young redheaded autograph-seeker who, when asked, said her name was Jolene. The name resonated with Parton immediately, and when the occasion of writing a song about a redheaded man-stealer came about (this part inspired by a woman at the bank who shamelessly flirted with Parton's husband, Carl), the name Jolene fit the bill. "Jolene" has been successfully covered by artists as diverse as Mindy Smith and The One Dove as well as goth groovers Sisters of Mercy and British poster child Sophie Ellis Bextor, among many others.
"I Will Always Love You"
Dolly Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" as a tribute of sorts to her mentor, Porter Wagoner, with whom she had just split. The song, which was the follow-up single to the No. 1 hit "Jolene," also went to No. 1 in 1974. Elvis Presley had expressed an interest in recording the song somewhere down the line, but when Parton was told she would need to sign over half the publishing rights, she refused the offer. Good thing, because in 1982, Parton took a re-recorded version of the song (for the soundtrack to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) to the top of the country charts again. Indeed, another re-recorded version, a duet with Vince Gill, went to the Top 15 in 1995. And let's not forget 1992's worldwide smash by Whitney Houston.
"Here You Come Again"
"Here You Come Again" was Parton's first significant crossover hit, topping the country charts and reaching as high as No. 3 on the pop chart. While an unqualified hit, the song, written by the powerhouse duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, divided Parton's fans, many of whom didn't care for the lush pop arrangements and obvious hooks. Still, it was hard to argue with the success of the song, which even got a Grammy nod. Additionally, the album, also titled Here You Come Again, was Parton's first million-seller.
"Two Doors Down"
"Two Doors Down" was the second single to be released from the platinum album Here You Come Again. Released in March 1978, "Two Doors Down" graced both the country and pop charts. Parton re-recorded a more upbeat, pop version of the song, in part to capitalize on the crossover success of "Here You Come Again," and also in part to overtake the momentum that newcomer Zella Lehr was seeing with the song at the same time. This version replaced the original version on subsequent pressings of Here You Come Again.
"9 to 5"
"9 to 5" was the title track to the movie in which Dolly Parton made her acting debut. Starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Nine to Five was one of 1980's surprise hit movies. With the now-famous opening line, "Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen/ Pour myself a cup of ambition," Dolly endeared herself to many working-class women trying to break the glass ceiling. The song, which garnered an Academy Award nomination, proved to be a triple threat, topping the country, pop and adult contemporary charts. Additionally, a Broadway version of Nine to Five opened and closed in 2009.
"Islands in the Stream"
Written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb, "Islands in the Stream" topped the country, pop and adult contemporary charts in 1983. By this time, Parton was regularly starring in movies (9 to 5, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Rhinestone among them), leaving her with precious little time to write her own songs. In 1985, RCA dropped the star, who signed with Columbia in 1987.
"To Know Him Is to Love Him"
In 1987, before Dolly released her Columbia debut, she snuck this release out. It was recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris under the moniker Trio, and Parton reconnected with her true country fans with this rich, harmony-laden recording. Trio was a critical and commercial hit, going platinum and spawning three Top 10 country hits. It was a nice transition back into the world of country and gave her career a much-needed boost.
In 1989, Dolly Parton starred in the hit movie Steel Magnolia, along with then-newcomer Julia Roberts and acclaimed actresses Sally Field and Olympia Dukakis. Capitalizing on the movie's success, Parton released her Columbia debut, White Limozeen. "Yellow Roses" is a first-class tear-jerker that once again took Parton to the top of the country charts. Produced by Ricky Skaggs, White Limozeen returned Parton to her country roots and briefly resuscitated her commercial career.