Dolly Parton is more than just a country music icon. She’s one of the most important and enduring cultural figures of the modern era. She starred in movies and TV shows, she’s written a musical, and, of course, she owns the popular Dollywood theme park in Tennessee. Her passions include more than music: the child literacy program she founded has given away more than 100 million books. Her legacy extends well beyond the massive enterprise she has created. With her unmistakable brand of southern charm, Dolly Rebecca Parton challenged norms throughout her six-plus decade career. When country music was dominated by men, she proved a woman could also top the charts. With men occupying the executive positions of record labels and TV networks, Parton created her own company and beat them at their own game. She refused to accept a role in life as a supporting player. No, she would be the star of the show.
To this day, the woman from very humble beginnings remains one of the most influential people in entertainment. Her music is what people most remember with her countless number one country songs. They were more than just songs, though – they were stories based on the struggle of women across the planet. From the pleading, emotionally charged “Jolene” to the clever “9 to 5”, Parton’s discography was filled with tracks that encourage women to break the glass ceiling, much like she did over and over again.
It’s impossible to summarize the career of such a beloved star in just a few paragraphs. Her influence on countless musicians extends beyond genre and gender. In The Artists Speak, Volume 5, thirteen musicians share how the legend’s most notable songs have left an impact on them. How the woman people affectionately just call Dolly has inspired them to dream big and never back down.
The playlist contains the Top 30 Dolly Parton songs as chosen by the artists. The full list of participating artists is provided at the end of this feature.
The first four volumes in the series (Prince, Marvin Gaye, John Prine, and Radiohead) are available here.
Top 30 Dolly Parton Songs as Chosen by the Artists
Fenne Lily: “Anyone who doesn’t have this on their list is lying – it’s as close to a perfect song as possible. The guitars are recorded so spongey sounding, there’s nothing sharp about anything on the recording and it’s so so so sad. She’s captured a feeling perfectly. That’s huge!”
Jasmine Rodgers: “For me, the top one is always going to be Jolene. Dolly is an incredible singer, guitarist and performer, and her bedazzling looks distract from her skill. Jolene has such urgency, and I love how the backing vocals are not the obvious way; they add a discordant aspect that adds to the feeling of panic when Jolene comes along. It’s sort of comforting that Dolly feels the same way many of us feel…..and the way she sings with such emotion makes you feel she’s on your side, she has an intimacy in her delivery that is always so warm and comforting.”
Kayla Diamond: “This song is such a legend in itself. The reason I love it so much is because of the perspective – while most people in that position would sing about how bad the “other woman” is, Dolly somehow manages to give nothing but compliments and power to this woman while singing about the possibility of her man cheating on her. Now if that isn’t selflessness, I don’t know what is.”
Ryan Hamilton: “I know The Whites Stripes took this song to a whole new level, but even before that, what a song!”
2. “9 to 5”
Carly Johnson: “The storyline and imagery in the lyrics of this classic 1980s anthem easily reads like a musical. In Philly, I was a music major in college…and being the only student from Kentucky, I was elected to sing this tune at one of our vocal concerts highlighting movie theme songs…I wasn’t mad at it.”
Neska Rose: “I love Dolly’s rock side. It’s also one of my mom’s favorite songs, and she introduced me to it.”
Hamilton: “I never owned this song/album, but somehow (and I’m guessing a lot of folks are like this) I KNOW EVERY WORD and sing it with joyous enthusiasm when it comes on the radio.”
Rodgers: “9 to 5 was a landmark film I watched when I was tiny and probably helped me to become the feminist I am today. it’s an anthem isn’t it? I love the lyrics and it’s a classic sassy dance track- for me and my friends anyway. Classic honky-tonk piano, great brass… The message is one everyone can get but in the film it’s got that extra dimension, and the female voices in this are strong and uncompromising.”
3. “I Will Always Love You”
Diamond: “This song was an absolute BEAST. Besides the song itself, it represents Dolly’s wicked business skills. The fact that she turned down Elvis because she wanted to keep her publishing on it showed that no matter how big the opportunity, if something doesn’t feel right to you, then you shouldn’t do it.”
Johnson: “An emotionally stunning classic, lyrically beautiful. Though my favorite version of this tune belongs to Whitney Houston, I’m so grateful to Dolly for writing it. Houston’s version, the theme for The Bodyguard movie and the soundtrack in its entirety, majorly influenced my vocal trajectory as a kid…and that song with Whitney’s crystal clear power started it all.”
4. “Here You Come Again”
Johnson: “Every time I hear that unmistakable, bright-eyed piano and Rhodes intro come in, my mood is immediately lifted. This song is sweet as pie and catchy as hell.”
Laura Oakes: “Every time I hear this song, it reminds me of the first time I heard it. I was 17 and thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. I still think it’s one of the best songs to this day. The production is so rich and warm, the strings arrangement and electric guitars give me tingles every time I listen to it. And it has two key changes – what’s not to love?”
5. “Islands in the Stream” (with Kenny Rogers)
Pearl Charles: “Even though this isn’t one of Dolly’s original songs, her version with Kenny Rogers is definitely the gold standard. A master interpreter as well as a writer, Dolly can tell others stories as if they are her own.”
Rose: “It was one of my grandma’s favorite songs, and she used to play it in the house and sing along to it.”
6. “The Bridge”
Diamond: “This is the OG ‘Stan’, in my opinion. This one kind of shocks you because it’s a dark side of her that you don’t normally see, but she paints a beautiful picture of heartbreak and is fearlessly talking about subject matter that would have otherwise been slightly taboo for that time. What a badass.”
Princess Chelsea: “This is the sort of song Springsteen might have studied before writing ‘The River’. Using a location and a first meeting point as a way of analyzing a relationship through the passage of time, ‘The Bridge’ has a Sopranos-style ending.”
7. “Why’d You Come in Here Looking Like That”
Hamilton: “I love the tongue in cheek lyrics here. Such a fun song, and we get a glimpse of that bad-ass side of Dolly.”
8. “Down from Dover”
Oakes: ” This song floored me the very first time I heard it and it has the same effect on me every time I hear it. I learned to much about storytelling from this song and it showcases her incredible talent for bringing stories to life through song. You feel so immersed in the situation.”
Princess Chelsea: “Some might associate this song with Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood who covered it, but this grim and controversial story is written by Dolly in 1970 and is about a pregnant teenager who is rejected by her family and lover, and goes on to lose her baby.”
9. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”
Charles: “This is one of my absolute favorite breakup/nostalgia songs. How many times have we all asked ourselves this about a former lover or partner? The beautiful about thing about this tune is that although it’s bittersweet, to me she doesn’t seem desperate to go back to the past, she just wants to know if the subject she is singing about ever has the same fond passing memories that she does. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, it’s better to have love and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
Rose: “A foot-stomping beat and the infectious, sweet melody.”
10. “Coat of Many Colors”
Lauri Raus: “Maybe it’s because I like Nancy Sinatra and this song kicks off a lot like the guitar on ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’. I like that song an awful lot too. But don’t get me wrong, Dolly Parton is real good herself.”
Paige Valentine: “I spend 8 hours driving across remote Western Australia, and this is the perfect song for when I’m getting half way and losing steam, this song just revs you up, her voice is amazing and her personality just shines through.”
12. “Dumb Blonde”
Valentine: “The Sass. Palpable. She’s just a weapon. This is such a fun upbeat, burn song. Mastery.”
14. “Baby I’m Burning”
Baker: “Love the moving rocking beat to this song. It just kinda thumps along with a great groove. I can’t say that this song really is country in any way… though it’s horn arrangements and cool synth use complements Dolly’s wonderful lead vocals which coalesce together in modulation to a grand final. Uptempo fun!”
Valentine: “The ultimate power song. Literal flames. You cannot help but get swept up in this song, you cannot help but envision the rhinestones, the tassels this song just takes over your spirit and drenches it in glitter. It’s so over the top in the best possible way. She’s so fun.”
15. “Touch Your Woman”
Kandle: “So real! I’ve been telling boyfriends this for years! One thing I always love about Dolly is how unapologetically feminine she is. She writes about things every woman feels and often feel too embarrassed to say out loud. Fun fact: even though this song reached number 6 on the charts, many radio stations wouldn’t play it because of its sexual nature! Oh Dolly, thank you for paving the way for the rest of us: “‘And you lay by my side. You know exactly what it takes to keep me satisfied.’”
16. “Early Morning Breeze”
17. “Working Girl”
Rose: “I love ‘Working Girl’ because it showcases Dolly’s feminism and her appreciation for a woman’s life. It’s raw and fierce with a cool drive to it.”
18. “I’ll Oilwells Love You”
Princess Chelsea: Written about 5 years before “I Will Always Love You”, Dolly’s humour and clever worldplay is on full display as she sings from the point of view of a gold digger who is after an oil man’s money. The fact this song is also on an album called Just Because I’m A Woman made me love it even more.
19. “I Really Got the Feeling”
Lily: “Absolutely my favourite. It’s so pure and perfect, that line, “I’ve really got the feeling that I’ll love you for a long long time” – that’s the best thing to be told and I love her for writing it.”
20. “Here I Am”
Charles: “A common theme in Dolly’s music is her being unapologetically herself. Here I Am is a perfect example of her presenting herself fully and asking to be appreciated, loved and accepted for who she is entirely, the good and the bad, and what she has to offer, which we have all done and will continue to do happily.”
21. “Just Because I’m a Woman”
22. “The Love You Gave”
Kandle: “I adore this track! She recorded it the year she graduated high school, it was the B-side from her first ever release, I believe. I’m kind of obsessed with the rare tracks from her days of wanting to be a bubblegum pop singer but not quite able to shake her inner country girl. You can hardly hear the twang on her vocal but at just 18, she breaks your heart with perfectly sung lines like “lonely teardrops night and day since you’ve been gone.” My only complaint about this song is that it’s only 2 minutes long haha!”
23. “Star of the Show”
Kurt Baker: “I really love it when Dolly does Disco. This song makes me wanna dance, and it’s always been a great song to put on a Saturday night. Plus the cover of the album “Great Balls of Fire” is just electric and exciting. The lyrics definitely are the perfect way to sum up Dolly Parton… ‘I Don’t Play No Second Fiddle In Nobody’s band‘.”
24. “How Great Thou Art”
Lily: “Opening anything with a choir is undeniably cool, I could probably love any song that started with a choir. And building into that huge Christmas ending. I’m not hugely into the God part of it, but for everything else I’m on board.”
25. “Wildflowers” (with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt)
26. “Gonna Hurry As Slow As I Can”
27. “The Grass Is Blue”
28. “It Wasn’t God Who Created Honky Tonk Angels”
Raus: “Reminds me of the night I was watching Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta. And despite not much happening in the course of that two hour-fifteen, I still fondle that soft-core country-music movie today.”
29. “The Bargain Store”
30. “Telling Me Lies” (with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt)
Hamilton: “Ok, technically from the Trio album, but I gotta mention it. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris AND Linda Ronstadt! Those voices together! Yes, please.”
Participating Artists and Their Reflections:
Fenne Lily: One the most gifted singer-songwriters to arrive in the past five years with an arresting voice that will even subdue the most stoic person. Her sophomore album, BREACH, turned vulnerability, insecurity, and misery into a blissful and blessed experience. The young Londoner is on the fast-track to stardom, whose name should be mentioned in the same breath as Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers.
Pearl Charles: Despite her youth, Pearl Charles is a throwback, creating music that recalls the ethereal transcendence of the Laurel Canyon era. Her 2018 album, Sleepless Dreamer, and eponymous debut EP showcased the L.A.-based artist’s ability to make the old sound new while also creating stories that stir every possible emotion. Charles’ sophomore album, Magic Mirror, which is out January 15th on Kanine Records, should only further cement her status as a modern-day June Carter and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Pre-order the LP on Bandcamp.
Quote: “Dolly has been having a much deserved renaissance as of late. Her ability to write about the human experience is unrivaled, she can truly sing and play like no other, not to mention her endless humanitarian work. The lady is a national treasure and we’re lucky to have her!”
Princess Chelsea: New Zealand indie star Chelsea Nikkel, who is better known as Princess Chelsea, is a pop chameleon. She can dazzle and provoke with infectious electro-pop, grandiose synth-opera, or creative baroque-pop. Within each song exists a fairy tale – some based on actual experiences and others imagined but every single story feels real and relevant. Her last album, 2018’s The Loneliest Girl, received global acclaim for its ingenuity and intelligence. At the end of November until the first weekend of December, Nikkel will embark on a tour in her home country. Dates and ticket purchases are available here.
Quote: “Dolly Parton is a narrative song writer in a similar style to Lee Hazlewood, Morrissey or Springsteen who will tackle serious and sometimes problematic subject matter writing from the point of view of different characters and perspectives. While songwriters of this calibre tend to present themselves more ‘seriously’, Dolly’s catalogue and her image are infused with wit and an I don’t care punk aesthetic that is unapologetically feminine. Sometimes it feels like if you don’t have a serious singer songwriter image, or if you’re a woman with an overtly feminine aesthetic it’s hard to be taken seriously by critics (for example early media coverage of Lana Del Rey). When I feel like this I often play Dolly in my car really loudly and by the end of an album feel much better and proud to be a princess. 😉“
Lauri Raus of Holy Motors: Lauri Raus is the guitarist for Estonian band Holy Motors, whose psychedelic Americana make them sound like they’re from Santa Fe than Tallinn. The band’s new album, Horse, is one of the year’s most underrated albums. From start to finish, the record sounds like it was made for the big screen with its vignettes of a life in a post-apocalyptic world. If there is one filmmaker that should ask Holy Motors to write the soundtrack to his next month, it’s Quentin Tarantino.
Paige Valentine: Based out of the Western Australian city of Perth, Paige Valentine has long been one of the region’s most treasured singer-songwriters. Her intimate folk style has netted her five Western Australian Music Awards nominations, but more recently she’s changed her tone and now traverses the unsettling waters of dream-pop and soul-pop. Her latest singles, “Pure” and “Fool”, were jaw-dropping numbers that demonstrated Valentine can not only stir emotions under a different approach but also send listeners on a temporarily escape.
Kandle: Kandle Osborne – or simply Kandle – is one of Canada’s most unique talents. While she could easily create commercial-pop tunes, she’s opted to traverse more suspenseful and even sinister roads and carve out a niche for herself. She is, in other words, an artist by every definition and not just a singer nor even a singer-songwriter. Coming from a musical family (her father, Neil, is the front-man for celebrated Canadian band 54-40) has helped her master her craft, but it still takes a creative genius to create songs that are equal parts film-noir, 007 espionage, and psychological thriller. Swampy blues, witch rock, psych-rock, alternative – whatever you want to call her sound, we can all agree it is fresh, inventive, and superb. Osborne’s newest single, “Lock & Load”, is out November 11th with pre-saves here. A new album is expected in the first quarter of 2021.
Carly Johnson: Louisville, Kentucky’s Carly Johnson could be described as an artist’s artist. Despite her relatively low-profile on the mainstream music scene, everyone in the industry knows who she is. Johnson cannot be pigeonholed into a single genre, but one thing is clear about her songs: they possess the power and grace of music’s legends. Her sound is a combination of retro soul, classic R&B, and old-school soul/pop, so it’s no wonder musicians are lining up to collaborate with her, including Bonnie “Prince” Billy on her newly-released single, “For You”. With the backing of an industry, maybe Johnson will buck all trends and reintroduce a new generation to music that truly comes from the soul. Her eponymously debut album arrives December 4th. Pre-orders are available on her website and Bandcamp.
Quote: “What I absolutely love about Dolly – other than her vocal ability to glide from a soft, floating lilt into a pure toned and strong high ranging belt – is her inability to be anything but exactly who she is. She’s a badass woman that does the right thing, exudes kindness and honesty and takes no shit.”
Laura Oakes: A young heart with an old-school soul is Laura Oakes. Whereas many new artists attempt to take country music into the mainstream with their crossover approach, the Liverpudlian is keeping the music that Dolly made honest, true, and genuine. Her most recent EP, How Big Is Your World, showcased a young talent that could one day headline the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, much like her idol did back in 1959.
Quote: “Dolly Parton means so much to me. She was the idol that taught me how to express myself and be 100% authentically and unashamedly me.”
Kayla Diamond: Stardom was predicted for Kayla Diamond after she won the Slaight Music’s It’s Your Shot competition in 2015. At that moment, she dropped out of law school and focused on doing what she loved: creating alt-pop music that told tales about ordinary folks’ struggles, hopes, and loves. Although she may not be defending people’s rights in a courtroom, she’s giving them hope through her songs, such as on her latest single, “Always Been You”.
Quote: “There’s no question that Dolly is an absolute icon. I get chills just thinking about the impact she’s made not just as a songwriter, but as a fearless feminist who isn’t afraid to use her own femininity to empower herself and millions of other women. You can’t help but get a warm fuzzy feeling every time you hear her songs or see her interviews, because she just exudes love and kindness. She’s one of the most special people put on planet Earth.”
Jasmine Rodgers: Imagine Thao Nguyen of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Rhiannon Giddens, and Tiny Ruins formed a super-group and this is what Jasmine Rodgers is. The multi-instrumentalist fuses rock, blues, soul, folk, and country into one captivating sound. Like these great singer-songwriters, she is not just an artist nor musician. She is also a keen observer of humanity’s interactions with one another and its surrounding, and she shares her perspectives in the poignant stories she tells. Her newest single, “Flies”, showcases her wide-ranging talents, and her forthcoming EP, which is expected early in 2021, should further validate Rodgers’ place as one of the UK’s most exciting artists.
Quote: “Dolly has always been an icon to me, as a singer and a guitarist and as a songwriter, for someone as constantly glamorous as she is she’s also kind of understated and humble. Her support of children’s literacy as well is amazing. Basically childhood icon/goddess.”
Neska Rose: Dolly Parton was only 13 years old when she first set foot on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Neska Rose has yet to grace that iconic auditorium’s parquet floors, but at just 14 years old there is plenty of time for this to happen. Music fans around the globe can still be bowled over by the immense talent she showcases on her latest single, “Done”. With her twin sister Libi providing backing harmonies, Neska delivers a gritty, dark, and confident folk-rock tune that echoes a young Fiona Apple and PJ Harvey. Simply “wow!”
Kurt Baker: Fuzzy garage-rocker Kurt Baker might seem like the last person to be a Dolly fan, but her influence can be heard in his take-no-prisoners attitude. The singer-songwriter from Madrid, Spain recently released a new album, After Party, which is 30-odd minutes of upbeat rock and amusing stories. Kind of sounds like Dolly.
Quote: “What can I really say about Dolly Parton that hasn’t been said? She is just amazing. She is the best example of how a musical artist can bring people together with their songs. A strong woman. A role model. An icon. She has it all.
“I think Dolly Parton was in my conscious from a very young age because I saw her with Kermit the Frog on the ‘Dolly Parton Show’. Then years later, I was listening to a punk band called The Briefs singing their song, ‘Dolly Parton’, which was really cool. She is kinda like a punk, I’d say, because she has so much confidence in herself, doesn’t give a flying ‘f’ what people think, and has her own unique style. That’s respect right there!
“One time I was hanging in Malmo, Sweden with an old friend of mine, and I think we listened to ‘Jolene’ on repeat for hours on end. Also, my good buddy Mark is a huge fan and had a cardboard cutout of her that I think he found on the streets of Madrid. Who tosses out a cardboard cutout of Dolly Parton!?! Well, it was a treasure for Mark. In the musical world, she is a treasure and a true inspiration to us all.”
Ryan Hamilton of Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequins: Ryan Hamilton has a mission to lift people’s spirits in the darkest of times. Instead of seeing faults and weaknesses in people, he speaks about their strengths and offers hope. As opposed to looking in the rear-view mirror, he opts to keep his eyes fixated on the road ahead. These positive and uplifting messages occupy Hamilton and his backing band The Harlequins’ new folk-rock album, Nowhere to Go but Everywhere, which is out now.
Quote: “Dolly Parton is unique in the way that she is sort of the ultimate female artist bad-ass, and simultaneously keeps her reputation as one of the nicest, most genuine people ever. There’s nobody else like her. She’s an incredible songwriter (the success on that front speaks for itself), and the dichotomy of simultaneously being America’s Country Music Sweetheart, & America’s Leading Country Music Female Bad-Ass makes her stand above the rest. Just try and find someone who says, ‘I really can’t stand Dolly Parton’. That person doesn’t exist! Haha.
“On a personal note, I gotta mention her Trio project: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, together?! That album from 1987 is SO GOOD, and I feel like people don’t talk about that group enough.“
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