To celebrate the third leg of Dolly Parton‘s Pure & Simple tour (beginning this Friday in Toronto), we asked our friend Brad, the biggest Dolly fan we know, to create a chronological list of his favourite Dolly songs.
You might be surprised that most of Dolly’s songs (particularly the early ones) are not about romantic heartbreak, but uplifting things like unplanned pregnancy, child abuse, murder, and insanity — from a feminist perspective.
Heads up: We didn’t even try to include a song from Trio or Trio II, the glorious collaboration albums from Dolly, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. You should really listen to those in their entirety.
Now, on to the list! Song titles in bold are the ones Brad predicts Dolly is most likely to play on the Pure & Simple tour.
01. Dumb Blonde (1967) was the first single from Dolly’s first album Hello, I’m Dolly. She ain’t no dumb blonde though!
02. Just Because I’m A Woman (1968) was Dolly’s first single on RCA. She wrote it in response to her husband’s disappointment that she wasn’t a virgin when they were married in 1966 (50 years ago!). Some radio stations refused to play it because it was considered controversial at the time.
03. In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad (1969) is about Dolly’s impoverished childhood and her mixed emotions about those times. It’s full of imagery and sincerity. Classic Dolly.
Continue the Dolly Parton musical journey after the jump!
04. My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy (1969) is about a woman who regrets her decision to leave her mountain home for the excitement of city life. The lyrics and melody evoke a bleak, somber mood.
05. Gypsy, Joe and Me (1969) is about a poor, homeless girl, her boyfriend, and her little dog. Dolly likes to create complete stories within the confines of her songs.
06. Down From Dover (1970) is the story of a girl who waits in vain for a boy to come back and join her for the birth of their illegitimate baby. It was banned from country radio when it was released.
07. Daddy Come And Get Me (1970) explores the dark side of human nature. The narrator is a young woman who’s been committed to a mental institution by her ex-husband.
08. Joshua (1971) was Dolly’s first Number 1 country song. It’s about an orphan who finds a home with an unfriendly mountain recluse.
09. Coat of Many Colors (1971) is Dolly’s personal favourite song. Aside from the pathos of the story, what makes it so endearing is its authenticity.
10. Traveling Man (1971) is about a young woman’s door-to-door salesman lover who runs off with her…mother! Dolly’s written a lot of songs with surprise endings.
11. Touch Your Woman (1972) is one of our personal favourites. It was considered too erotic for the genre at the time of its release.
12. My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973) is another classic Dolly song. She’s written a lot of songs about growing up in the Smoky Mountains, but this is her most famous.
13. Jolene (1974) is everyone’s favourite Dolly song! The story isn’t special, but there’s something about the melody, the way she describes her insecurity and jealousy, and that guitar riff.
14. I Will Always Love You (1974) was a Number 1 song for Dolly twice – first in the 70s and again in the 80s. Then it went Number 1 again (and became one of the biggest selling singles of all time) when Whitney recorded it in the 90s. We prefer Dolly’s more tender version.
15. Please Don’t Stop Loving Me (1974) was a Number 1 song for Dolly and Porter Wagoner, her duet partner of seven years (and the person she wrote I Will Always Love You about).
16. Love Is Like A Butterfly (1974) was considered Dolly’s signature song before her pop success and it was used as the theme song for her 1976 syndicated variety show.
17. The Bargain Store (1975) was considered too suggestive for some country radio stations when it was released. The metaphor of a junk store forms the framework of the lyrics. It’s also featured in the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things.
18. The Seeker (1975) is about feeling unworthy in the eyes of God. Dolly loves to write and perform gospel songs, even though she considers herself “spiritual”, not religious.
19. Applejack (1977) is about Jackson Taylor, the man that helped Dolly learn the banjo as a child. She likes to perform this one in concert.
20. Light of a Clear Blue Morning (1977) is the first song Dolly wrote after ending her business relationship with Porter Wagoner. It was also the first track on her first self-produced album.
21. Here You Come Again (1977) was Dolly’s first single (and record) to sell a million copies.
22. It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright (1977) is overtly sexual and raised a few eyebrows at the time. We love the line “could I use you for a while?”.
23. Me and Little Andy (1977) is a strange and sentimental story-song about a little girl who is abandoned by her drunken father. By the end of the song, both the little girl and her puppy dog are dead.
24. Two Doors Down (1977) was a popular single and has been a staple at her concerts since it was released.
25. Baby I’m Burning (1978) was a disco hit and probably Dolly’s gayest song (see also Potential New Boyfriend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1TCdoY8qsk).
26. Heartbreaker (1978) wasn’t written by Dolly, but it was one of her biggest hits.
27. Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You) (1980) also wasn’t written by Dolly (it was actually written by Kesha’s mother), but she took it to the top of the country charts.
28. 9 to 5 (1980) is an anthem for working women (and men) everywhere!
29. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? (1982) is one of Dolly’s favourite songs to perform live.
30. Appalachian Memories (1983) is about God, family and migratory loneliness. In recent years, Dolly changed the title and lyrics to Smoky Mountain Memories.
31. Islands In The Stream (1983) was written by the Bee Gees and was originally intended for Marvin Gaye to sing. Instead, it became both Dolly and Kenny Rogers’ second pop Number 1 and is considered one of the best country duets of all time.
32. Why’d You Come In Here Looking Like That? (1989) was a Number 1 country song for Dolly.
33. Train, Train (1999) is a southern rock song turned bluegrass by Dolly on her popular, critically-acclaimed album The Grass Is Blue.
34. The Grass Is Blue (1999) was a reminder that Dolly was as good a singer and songwriter as she ever was.
35. Little Sparrow (2001) is the title track from the album that reintroduced audiences to the mountain sound and stories that were were present in her early songs.
36. My Blue Tears (2001) was written and recorded by Dolly several times throughout her career. The version that appears on Little Sparrow sounds like an old-time folk ballad.
37. Travelin’ Thru (2006) was written for the film Transamerica and is one of many examples in which Dolly’s expressed her support for gender issues.
38. Backwoods Barbie (2008) sums Dolly up perfectly: “I might look artificial, but where it counts, I’m real.”
39. Blue Smoke (2014) may seem hokey, but who doesn’t love a train song?
40. Pure and Simple (2016) is a new song that sounds old. It’s the title track from Dolly’s 43rd studio album (and the name of her current tour). The melody is classic Dolly.
If you like this list, you can listen to almost all of these songs on Brad’s Essential Dolly Parton Playlist on Spotify.