From heart-wrenching ballads to upbeat anthems, Dolly Parton has captured the hearts of country music fans around the world with her unique sound and incredible talent. Businesswoman, songwriter, actress … Dolly wears many hats successfully, which is probably why she is referred to as one of the most influential country singers ever! She is credited with writing some of the greatest country love songs of all time, which makes it a difficult feat to determine which of those hits are considered the best Dolly Parton songs!
Dolly Parton is a legend for many reasons. For one, she has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years. From “Jolene” to “I Will Always Love You”, many of her songs have topped the music charts at least once. According to one survey, “I Will Always Love You” is considered one of the saddest songs of all time. But, hey! It is also considered one of the best breakup songs ever! I guess Dolly knew what she was doing when she wrote this hit! With her music, she has won many prestigious awards including 11 Grammy awards. Though she may have achieved her sales peak in the 1970s and 80s, her music continues to be celebrated today.
She has also done a lot to help those in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee. Her theme park “Dollywood” brings crowds of people from all over the world who want to enjoy fun, family centered rides, food, and entertainment — all while getting a real glance of where she grew up!
So, now that we’re all ready to hear some Dolly tunes, put on your cowboy boots and sing along, because today we’re counting down Ms. Parton’s greatest hits! Though a challenging feat, StudyFinds consulted 10 expert music sites to determine the best Dolly Parton songs according to fans and critics. Considering there are many, please leave a comment below if your fav didn’t make this list!
The List: Best Dolly Parton Songs, According to Fans, Critics
1. “Coat of Many Colors” (1971)
Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” is a song about growing up poor but being rich in love. The song was inspired by Parton’s own childhood, and her mother’s decision to make her a coat out of rags. The song is a reminder that even when times are tough, love can see you through.
“This song was one of Dolly’s personal favorites from her vast catalog,” says Country Thang Daily. “In an episode of The Late Night Show, she shared that it was her favorite song from a very personal level, and it was more than just a coat. It was a story about her mom, her family, acceptance, and tolerance. It was a song that even spoke of bullying as kids back then made fun of her at school. In her 1994 memoir, she recounted how she composed the song in 1969 on the back of a dry cleaning receipt from one of Porter Wagoner’s suits (which he framed after the song became a hit). She recorded the song in 1971 as the title track of her album of the same name.”
Parade adds, “Growing up poor in rural Tennessee and wearing handmade clothes sparked Parton to write this popular song that’s been turned into a book and inspired a 2015 TV movie. Her song about being mocked for wearing a coat made of different fabrics (‘In my mind, I thought I looked just like Joseph. But the kids didn’t, and it crushed me,’ Parton writes in Songteller) has done quite a bit of good: ‘It’s been written into a school book to teach children that it’s alright to be different. So that little song is like a world of things. It teaches about bullying, about love, about acceptance, about good parents.'”
“Coat of Many Colors” is the real-life story of how her mother stitched together a coat for her out of rags and told her the story of Joseph, in the Bible, and his coat of many colors,” says American Songwriter. “Parton has often cited ‘Coat of Many Colors’ as one of her favorite songs that she has ever written.”
Rolling Stone concludes: “Between this song, a made-for-TV film, a childrens’ book and memorable covers of the original, a patchwork coat made by Parton’s mother inadvertently launched a multimedia enterprise. However, nothing tops witnessing Parton live on stage, performing this genuinely heart-stirring tale, recalling the experience of that crestfallen little girl as if the wounds from her classmates’ taunts are still fresh.”
2. “Jolene” (1973)
This hit was released as a single in 1973 and became one of Parton’s signature songs. The song is about a woman who is pleading with the title character not to take her man away from her. Like many others, this song has been covered by numerous artists, including Emmylou Harris, Olivia Newton-John, and Miley Cyrus. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked it as the No. 4 country song of all time.
Smooth Radio comments on the background of the song saying, “Dolly’s most famous song is also her best. The song tells the tale of a woman confronting Jolene, a beautiful woman, who she believes is trying to steal away her lover/husband. According to Dolly, the song was inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean at their local branch around the time they were newly married. She has also said that Jolene’s name and appearance are based on a young fan who came on stage for her autograph. It was Dolly’s second solo number-one single on the US country charts in early 1974, and was also a moderate pop hit. By November 2016, it had sold over 733,000 digital copies in the US alone. In the UK, it became Dolly’s first top ten hit, reaching number seven in 1976. It also re-entered the chart in 2014, after she performed at the Glastonbury Festival.”
Rolling Stone adds, “Parton’s live renditions of this oft-covered – 400-plus and counting – crowd-pleaser have usually been accompanied by recollections of the statuesque, redheaded bank teller who shamelessly flirted with her husband. Marking her first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, ‘Jolene’ provided a showcase for the singer-songwriter at her most vulnerable, which made it all the more relatable. ‘Whether it’s in another language, or [performed by] a garage band, everybody seems to love that song,’ she notes. This May, Dolly and Carl Dean celebrate their 57th anniversary, and 50 years after its release, ‘Jolene’ remains a dearly beloved classic.”
3. “I Will Always Love You” (1974)
“I Will Always Love You” is one of Dolly Parton’s most enduring and popular songs. It has been covered by many other artists including Whitney Houston. The song is a declaration of love and commitment, and its simple yet powerful lyrics have resonated with many people over the years.
The Boot adds, “What other song could possibly top the list of the Top 10 Dolly Parton Songs? Written about Parton’s professional breakup with Porter Wagoner, who had been her mentor for many years, the song first reached No. 1 in 1974, then again in a re-recorded version in 1982 from the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1992 Whitney Houston recorded a stunning version for her film ‘The Bodyguard,’ which hit No. 1 on the pop charts and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Parton and Vince Gill took the song to No. 15 as a duet in 1995, which also earned them a CMA award for Vocal Event of the Year.”
“Simply put, it’s one of the greatest love songs in music history,” says Billboard. “The inspiration for the song stems from Parton making the decision to cut the professional ties to Porter Wagoner in 1974. In doing so, she crafted a love song for the ages — one that was a hit three (1974, 1982, 1995) times for the singer, and also taken to new heights in 1992 by Whitney Houston on the soundtrack of The Bodyguard. Houston’s version logged an astonishing 14 weeks atop the Hot 100.”
“This song is a timeless classic that has become one of the most beloved love songs of all time. The song is characterized by its simple yet powerful melody, as well as Parton’s emotive vocals. The lyrics of ‘I Will Always Love You’ are a tender and heartfelt declaration of love, as Parton sings about her deep and abiding affection for someone she must leave behind,” says Singersroom. “The song’s poignant melody and Parton’s soulful voice make it a powerful emotional experience, touching the hearts of listeners with its message of enduring love. ‘I Will Always Love You’ remains one of Parton’s most beloved songs, a testament to her incredible talent as a songwriter and performer, and a true classic of popular music.”
4. “9 to 5” (1980)
“9 to 5” is one of Dolly Parton’s most iconic and well-known songs. The song was written by Dolly Parton and originally released in 1980. It’s a song about the struggles of working women and the challenges they face in the workforce. The song has been covered by many artists, including Beyonce, and has been featured in the film of the same name.
Gold Derby adds, “Tapping her acrylic fingernails against one another to simulate the clacking of a typewriter, Parton had one of her biggest hits with her take on ‘a way to make a livin’.” It was also the first of several for Parton: she made her acting debut in the film of the same name (performing alongside veteran actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin), she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song and it was her first number one single on the ‘Billboard’ Hot 100. With the song also making it to the top of the country charts, she became only the second female to have a song reach the top of both the pop and country charts, and she earned Grammys for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song, as well as a nod for Song of the Year.”
Parade writes, “During all the waiting around while filming the movie 9 to 5 with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Parton decided she had to do something other than go to the crafts (food) table. ‘I didn’t want to disrupt everything on the set by making music and attracting attention when other people were trying to work,’ she recalls. Her solution: writing a song with her fingernails. “I would take my nails and make them sound like a typewriter. Off by myself, I would click my nails and use that sound as my music. I wrote ‘9 to 5’ in my head that way. I’d go back to my hotel at night and put down what I had written that day, playing my guitar and getting it on tape. Over a long period of time, I wrote the song on my nails. I’m famous for that now. Every time I go on TV, I have to ‘play’ my nails like a typewriter.” The song was a smash that won two Grammys and was nominated for an Oscar.”
Singersroom adds, “‘9 to 5’ is an iconic anthem of the working woman, characterized by its infectious melody, funky bassline, and clever lyrics. The song was written for the film of the same name, in which Parton also starred, and has since become a staple of popular culture. The lyrics of ‘9 to 5’ are a rallying cry for women in the workforce, as Parton sings about the struggles and frustrations of working a nine-to-five job. The song’s catchy chorus, with its iconic opening line ‘Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living,’ has become an anthem of empowerment and inspiration for women around the world.”
5. “Here You Come Again” (1977)
Released in 1977, this song was one of Dolly Parton’s biggest hits. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the country charts. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Country Female Vocal Performance. The song is about a woman who is happy to see her former lover again, even though she knows he will eventually leave her again.
According to PopMatters, “‘Here You Come Again‘ must top the list of best Dolly Parton ditties on principle — It might just be the best pop song of the 20th century. This song defined the archetype that every crossover country/pop star that followed would strive to fit — and none would even come close until two decades later with the Shania Twain era. It’s sappy, mournful pop constructed atop a basic piano melody, furnished with strings and synth emblematic of the late 1970s, and with a slide guitar to keep things truly country. It doesn’t just describe a familiar experience, but aurally feels like one. Parton’s effortlessly genuine soprano sells it, kaleidoscoping through agony, optimism, trepidation, and infatuation, each on a gargantuan scale. This is the kind of song that swallows you whole; here it comes again, and there you go.”
“A rarity on several fronts: For starters, Parton didn’t write the song, and she didn’t even record it first,” says Billboard. “Her producer at the time heard the song on a B.J. Thomas record, and the song was actually written with Brenda Lee in mind. With all due respect to those legendary artists, Parton delivered a knockout punch to this Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song with her 1977 version. When you hear that signature keyboard intro, you’re hooked. Audiences agreed, sending the song to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, No. 2 on Adult Contemporary and No. 3 on the Hot 100.”
“This song defined Dolly’s crossover from country to pop, which earned her first Top 10 Pop hit,” adds Country Thang Daily. “In The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Dolly’s producer Gary Klein shared with Tom Roland that Dolly begged him to ‘countrify’ the pop tune. And so they brought in steel guitarist Al Perkins for the job. Dolly wanted to broaden her fanbase but not at the expense of her country roots.”
You might also be interested in:
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- Rolling Stone
- Smooth Radio
- Gold Derby
- American Songwriter
- The Boot
- Country Thang Daily
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