"So to all the fools out there who never took her seriously, 'this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool'. Remember, Dolly always has the last laugh, and the best thing is, she wants everyone to laugh along with her."
Photo by Penn Irving for Vogue, October 1977.
Dolly Parton's name is on our lips once again. 2023 sees the release of her 49th studio album, Rockstar (her highest charting LP to date), as she continues to reach new heights almost half a century on from her career beginnings.
Renowned for her decades-long career, Dolly's rise and roots can be traced back to the great female country pioneers of the 1940s and 1960s, such as Rose Maddox, Molly O'Day, Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline. A natural-born performer, the Tennesse-born singer began performing at the age of 10 and honed her craft in Nashville after moving there to establish herself in the country scene after her high school graduation. Quick to stand out from the existing Nashville country crop with her progressive lyrics and woman-focused stance, Dolly's meteoric rise was partly down to her persona - a ready-made star who perfectly fitted the image of what a dynamic pop-culture icon could be. The legendary star made a career by crossing genres, venturing into bluegrass, Christian music, disco and now, rock, and most significantly cementing her strengths in a country-pop crossover, with hits like 9 to 5 and Here You Come Again.
An untouchable artist whose songs we could return to over and over. Here to help us reflect on the country rockstar's iconic sound is our very own Rough Trade e-commerce Head Patrick Lacey-Scott, and partner Zoe, who rundown Dolly Parton's 20 greatest tracks.
"If there is one artist that can unite us all it’s Dolly. Not only is she one of the greatest storytellers, melody writers and party-starters of all time, she is also one of the most incredible people, with home-brewed spirit, flair, humour and love that we should all take doses of regularly.
Here is a selection of songs that define Dolly’s career best (picked with the dutiful aid of my partner and fellow super-fan, Zoe). Some familiar, some hiding in plain sight. Could we have picked more than we did? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?"
We’ll start you off with a diamond-cut Dolly banger. That riff. That chorus. That voice. You’re knocked out in under 30 seconds. Then the first verse starts…
Even around the turn of the century, Dolly was able to deliver haunting epics. This one is about a woman rejected by society through no fault of her own. This is Dolly at her storytelling best. Still chokes me up today.
I had to include one of Dolly's country funk barnstormers, and I don’t think there’s a finer example. More swagger in this song than Liam Gallagher after his first rodeo.
Coat of Many Colours
This is Dolly’s favourite song so it has to be in here. Another autobiographical story of growing up financially poor, but rich in everything else.
Just Because I'm a Woman
An absolutely devastating final note of farewell from an abandoned lover on the verge of suicide. Handle this one with care. Once you hear it, you’ll never be able to forget it.
Lonely Coming Down
My favourite songwriter, Porter Wagoner
The depression is so palpable in this one. The sheer weight of it all. These last two back to back and you are an inconsolable mess.
Why’d You Come in Here Looking like That?
Oh look, it’s the core foundations of Shania Twain’s career in a 2 minute 30 second song. Whizzing country pop perfection that will have you line dancing in your sleep.
Islands In The Stream
Eyes that See in the Dark
A platinum karaoke hit, what more is there to say? Nights out wouldn’t be the same without it.
Still making classic songs deep into the new century. A witty reminder from Dolly that looks are way more than what they seem.
Potential New Boyfriend (Long version)
Burlap & Satin
A one-night stand between between country and disco, and who better to pull it off than our Dolly. This phase did not stick around for long, which is why you always go for the long version.
9 to 5
9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
Does Dolly get more relatable than this? She must have poured herself more than a few cups of ambition when writing this. Country-rippled southern soul, a roar of defiance that Aretha would be proud of.
Here I Am
A Coat of Many Colours
An empowering message of solidarity, reminding us we can do anything with Dolly on our side. Feeling overwhelmed? Put this on and watch your worries instantly wash away.
Down from Dover
The Fairest of Them All
We’ve picked a lot of sad ones and here’s another one. This 3-minute narrative is as heart-wrenching as any Oscar-winning melodrama. Honestly, this makes Kramer vs Kramer look like a walk in the park.
Mule Skinner Blues
This is the Nashville Sound
Giving the Jimmie Rodgers standard a 500-volt shot of bluegrass-branded electricity. Her voice has more kick than a cow on caffeine and her passion is as pure as a Tennessee mountain stream.
My Tennessee Mountain Home
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Talking of Tennesse Mountain, this is my favourite of Dolly’s autobiographical songs (of which there are many). A picture-perfect depiction of Dolly’s roots, which we are never more than a few songs from.
Here You Come Again
Here You Come Again
I could have picked almost anything from this brilliant album, so I thought to demonstrate my love for it all, I would pick the title track, a slinky and sultry number that sparkles as brightly as her rhinestone-studded dress.
Hard Candy Christmas
The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
Maybe I needed a Christmas song, maybe this is one of her best anyway, maybe people need to stop forgetting to play this every time Christmas comes around, and give it the respect it’s due.
The Last Thing on My Mind
(with Porter Wagoner)
The song about Dolly and Porter’s relationship that isn’t I Will Always Love You. It also happens to be their first duet together, long before Dolly outgrew the big man and his Nudie suits, and my what portent lyrics there are on this hit. It’s also one hell of a firecracker too, that’ll get you hooting and hollering for hours.
I Will Always Love You
The song about Dolly and Porter’s relationship that is I Will Always Love You. There isn’t much more I can say about this song that hasn’t already been said. Just one of the most bittersweet goodbye notes ever written. Heartwarming in its sentiment, crushing in its delivery. If we were all more like Dolly, the world would be a more forgiving, more accepting and more colourful place.
Hello, I'm Dolly
Everything you needed to know about Dolly was all there on this punchy recording from her debut album. She’s funner, she’s stronger and she’s smarter than the rest of us. So to all the fools out there who never took her seriously, “this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool”. Remember, Dolly always has the last laugh, and the best thing is, she wants everyone to laugh along with her.
World-renowned icon Dolly Parton always has us ready for the holiday season. A curation of reimagined classic holiday standards and brand-new originals, featuring guest performances by Michael Bublé, Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, and Randy Parton. Set to become a treasured annual favourite.