Where To Start With... Dolly Parton
Whether or not you're a fan of country music, Dolly Parton needs little introduction. With career record sales totalling in excess of 100 million records and 42 studio albums to her name, the woman once described as 'The Marilyn Monroe of Nashville' is arguably the biggest star that the country music scene has ever produced. In addition to her solo studio records she has recorded 13 albums as a duet with Porter Wagoner,
another two as a trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstat and several soundtracks, and that's before we even get to the four live albums, two Christmas albums and the 180 or so compilations. By any measure, Dolly Parton's musical output is nothing short of staggering, but she has also starred in films like Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, becoming one of only a handful of people to receive nominations at the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys and the Golden Globes.
Throughout her career, Parton has projected an exaggerated persona of the archetypal 'dumb blonde' - which, incidentally, was the name of the opening track on her 1967 debut album – but don't be fooled; you don't sell 100 million albums by accident and Parton is as shrewd as a businesswoman as she is prolific as a songwriter. If you need proof, consider Dollywood, the theme park that the singer bought in 1986. Many theme parks have ended in failure – particularly those attached to some celebrity or other – but Dollywood remains the biggest ticketed attraction in the state of Tennessee a full 30 years after it opened its gates.
Dolly may have celebrated her 70th birthday in January this year, but she's not done yet. This week her 43rd album, Pure & Simple, arrives in stores and in addition to the 12 brand new tracks on offer, this double-disc offering also includes all 14 songs from her barnstorming set at Glastonbury 2015 which saw the country music legend draw one of the biggest crowds ever seen at worthy farm, with over 100,000 people in attendance for her Sunday afternoon set.
Of the new songs, both the title track and 'Outside Your Door' are highlights that show there's plenty of tunes left in the tank, while the live disc also includes some belting renditions of hits like 'Coat of Many Colours' and
'Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That', as well as a duet with former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, with the pair delivering a brilliantly countrified cover version of the former's 'Lay Your Hands On Me'.
The album arrives in stores and online today (you can preview and purchase it at the top right of this page) and you can find the lyric video for ;Outside Your Door' below. Beneath that we've picked five highlights from her long and prolific career as a guide for the uninitiated...
'9 to 5'
If you only know one Dolly Parton song, it's probably this. The opening theme tune to the 1980 film of the same name, in which Dolly also co-starred alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, '9 to 5' remains her biggest hit and while she might claim she's “never been a feminist”, the lyrics to this song tell a different story: “Want to move ahead but the boss won't seem to let me / I swear sometimes that man is out to get me! / They let you dream just to watch 'em shatter / You're just a step on the boss-man's ladder.”
Judge for yourselves...
Dolly Parton's lyrics are almost always rooted in real-life experiences and the temptress featured in the lyrics to Jolene was reportedly inspired by an attractive bank clerk who made eyes at Parton's husband Carl Dean, to whom she remains married, so Jolene didn't take her man after all. What she did do though was inspire another of Dolly's biggest hits and aside from its instantly memorable melody, that acoustic guitar part is one of our all-time favourites on any song, in any genre.
'I Will Always Love You'
Hardcore fans won't need telling this, but the thing that a lot of people don't realise is that Dolly writes the vast majority of her own songs, as well as writing them for others from time to time. Although this was a song written and originally recorded by Dolly herself, the most famous version these days is probably the one recorded by Whitney Houston for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. To be fair to Whitney, she nailed it, but it was Dolly counting up the royalty cheques afterwards. Not such a 'dumb blonde' after all...
'Islands in the Stream'
Ironically, given what we've just said about Dolly writing her own songs, one of her biggest hits – a duet with another country music legend, Kenny Rogers – wasn't written by her at all. In fact, 'Islands in the Stream', thought to be the biggest-selling country record of the 1980s, was actually written by the Bee Gees. That's right, the Bee Gees, of disco-conquering, falsetto voice fame. Six years on from Saturday Night Fever, Disco had become so uncool that the Gibb brothers were mostly keeping out of sight and writing songs for other people, which turned out pretty well for everyone in this case.
'The Bargain Store'
Many of Dolly Parton's songs have such a radio-friendly sound that it's easy to miss the fact that some of her lyrics are incredibly dark and melancholy. (Her song 'Evening Shade' is about a group of orphans who burn down their orphanage and kill their headmistress. They don't mess around, these country & western types...)
Our final pick isn't one of Dolly's biggest hits, but we've chosen it not just because it's a great song, but also because it's a good example of her darker side. A song of heartbreak and self-doubt, but also with an air of optimism, this is an underrated little gem that's well worth a listen.