Pick Six: Dolly Parton

Juli Thanki | January 19th, 2012

It’s Dolly Parton’s 66th birthday today, so we’re celebrating with a song from each decade dating back to the 1960s. Narrowing down 50-some years’ worth of material to six songs is no easy task, but what are your favorite Dolly songs?

1960s: “Don’t Drop Out,” released in 1966, is a slice of pop perfection, but let’s talk about Dolly’s duets with Porter in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  There’s no doubt that they are some of the finest country songs ever recorded (though, it must be said, there are a couple cheeseballs, too), and “Just Someone I Used to Know” is my favorite of the bunch. Lots of artists have recorded it since then, but nobody’s ever done it quite this magnificently.


1970s: Dolly was in her prime in the ‘70s, writing and recording country classics like “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” “Joshua,” and “I Will Always Love You.” “Here You Come Again,” though not written by Parton, was an essential element in her successful crossover to pop music.



1980s: Dolly and Kenny’s chart-topping version of this Bee Gees-penned song would be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures if it wasn’t so dang good. Catchy, fun, and absolutely irresistible, there’s a reason why it’s a karaoke staple.


1990s: “Rockin’ Years,” a #1 single with Ricky Van Shelton, is a top-notch tune. The duo’s voices mesh so beautifully that I wish “Rockin’ Years” wasn’t just a one-off. Unfortunately, it was Dolly’s last time on the top of the country charts until she worked with Brad Paisley on his single “When I Get Where I’m Going” in 2005.


2000s: Dolly’s trio of bluegrass records are must-listens. In my opinion, Little Sparrow is the best of the bunch. She re-recorded her songs “Down From Dover” and “My Blue Tears,” but it was her cover of Collective Soul’s ‘90s radio staple “Shine” (featuring Nickel Creek) that first grabbed my attention as a whippersnapper. Over a decade later, it still does.


2010s: One of the things I admire most about Dolly Parton is the way she built an empire from the ground up. “The Sacrifice,” on her most recent album, Better Day, is all about the hard work needed to do something—anything—worthwhile: “Empty or full, I’ve carried my pail/You don’t drink the water if you don’t dig the well/Through blood, sweat, and tears, I’ve built a good life/But it didn’t come without sacrifice.” It’s still early in the decade, so there’s no telling where Dolly will go from here, but whatever she does, we’ll listen.

  1. Michael A.
    January 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Pick my favorite Dolly Parton song? Yeah, right. Today, though, off the top of my head I’d say either “Appalachian Memories” or “What a Heartache”.

  2. luckyoldsun
    January 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    There have been some pretty blatant “double entendre” songs in country music–Norma Jean: “Let’s Go All the Way,” Conway: “Lay You Down,”–even Mr. God-Bless, Lee Greenwood, with “Morning Ride–but Dolly’s “Come Again” may just be the zenith or nadir, depending on one’s tolerance for this form.

    It would be interesting to hear from anyone who was in country radio on this one!

  3. Jon
    January 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    “Baby I’m Burning,” from the Heartbreaker album – what a great record!

  4. Rick
    January 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    I purchased a Mercury label country sampler CD and it included one of the two songs off a single they issued for Dolly in 1962 titled “The Love You Gave”, recorded when she was 16. To my knowledge this was the only record Dolly ever made for the Mercury label. It was actually Dolly’s second 45 single release as her first was issued in 1959 on the Goldband label and included “Puppy Love”, recorded when she was 13.

    I find “The Love You Gave” to be a first rate pop song for that era just as good as anything Leslie Gore or other white female artists were recording at the time. I wonder if the song had become a Top 10 hit if Dolly would have stayed in the pop music realm instead? Hmm…

  5. Ben Foster
    January 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Great picks, Juli! I especially love that you spotlighted “Rockin’ Years.”

    I haven’t narrowed down one particular favorite Dolly Parton song, but for now I’ll give honorable mention to “Coat of Many Colors,” (obviously)”9 to 5,” (unashamedly) and “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That” (unbelievably catchy, with some funny lyric and a whole lot of classic Dolly personality).

  6. Leeann Ward
    January 21, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I agree that it’s pretty impossible to choose a favorite Dolly song, but “Coat of Many Colors” takes the edge for me. I do think that my absolute favorite Era of Dolly’s is the bluegrass era though.

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