Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "The Bargain Store"

1975 | Peak: #1

It’s somewhat amazing given the subject matter of many of her early RCA records, but “The Bargain Store” holds the distinction of being the first Dolly Parton record

to be banned by several radio stations.

Apparently, the vulnerability that led her to use the metaphor that she was a bargain store was taken literally by some disc jockeys, who believed that it wasn’t  just her emotions that were up for sale.

Kinda makes you want to hit your head up against a wall, doesn’t it?

Anyway, “The Bargain Store” is exquisitely beautiful, laced with the painful melancholy that usually colors Parton’s best songwriting.   I think it’s because her personality is so uplifting and positive by nature.  When she sings a sad song, it’s somehow sadder because her optimism has her clinging to find a silver lining where one doesn’t exist.

Back when I was heavily educating myself in country music history, I bought a vinyl copy of her greatest hits album from 1975, The Best of Dolly PartonIt included so many of the hits that we’ve written about lately:  “Coat of Many Colors”, “Jolene”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Touch Your Woman”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”, and “The Bargain Store.”

As somebody more familiar with her later pop-flavored hits, I was floored by the album.  I just couldn’t believe all of these songs had been written by the same person in such a short window of time.   With all I’ve learned about country music since, and all of the legendary music that I eventually educated myself about, I think I’m more amazed now than I even was then.

“The Bargain Store” marks the end of this particular period of Dolly Parton’s brilliant career.  She’d go on to write many more great songs and make many more great records that sold far more than her work from this period did.   But her talent would never again be so prolific to produce such an embarrassment of riches in such a short time.  This is the very best at her very best.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: A

Next: The Seeker

Previous: Love is Like a Butterfly

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100 Greatest Men: #42. Porter Wagoner

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Known affectionately as the Thin Man from the West Plains, Porter Wagoner was a steadfast champion for the traditions of country music, even as he used forward-looking methods of delivering it to the masses.

Wagoner was  a self-taught singer and musician, and first gained notoriety as a singing grocer.  The store manager thought his young worker had great potential, and arranged for him to perform on the radio in West Plains, Missouri.   This led to his own radio show in 1951, and then a high-profile stint onOzark Jamboree, a television show spearheaded by Red Foley.

His success on radio and television landed him a contract with RCA records, a label he would stay with for more than two decades.  At his time with the label, he would be a pioneer for the genre in many ways.  While recording popular country hits like “A Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company”, he also produced powerful spiritual numbers, including the evocative “What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House)”, helping to mainstream a southern Baptist perspective to the masses.

He also was an innovator both in album concepts and album artwork, creating bold designs for his LPs that explored themes like adultery, poverty, and alcoholism.    His arresting visual style made him an ideal fit for television, and his wildly popular syndicatedThe Porter Wagoner Show made him a household name.  It also led to his most high-profile musical partnership when he invited Dolly Parton to join the cast.

Wagoner’s show peaked in popularity with Parton as a cast member, and their memorable duet singles and albums kept him on the upper echelon on the country charts throughout the mid-seventies.  While his solo career was cooling off at the same time, he remained a major presence in the Southern gospel market, the area which earned him multiple Grammy awards.

He left RCA in the early eighties, following a successful final duet album with Parton.   By then, his show was also off the air, but as cable television began filtering into homes, Wagoner’s hosting duties on the Grand Ole Opry made him a familiar figure to a new generation of country music fans.   He recorded sporadically for the next two decades, but received overwhelming critical accolades when he released Wagonmaster. Produced by Marty Stuart, his final album was a powerful swan song in 2007, and gave him one more moment in the spotlight, the same year that he passed away at the age of eighty.

Essential Singles:

  • Company’s Comin’, 1954
  • A Satisfied Mind, 1955
  • What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House), 1956
  • Misery Loves Company, 1962
  • Green, Green Grass of Home, 1965
  • The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
  • The Last Thing on My Mind (with Dolly Parton), 1967
  • The Carroll County Accident, 1968

Essential Albums:

  • Satisfied Mind, 1956
  • Confessions of a Broken Man, 1966
  • The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
  • The Bottom of the Bottle, 1968
  • What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen, 1972
  • Wagonmaster, 2007

Next: #41. Ronnie Milsap

Previous: #43. Roger Miller

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "Love is Like a Butterfly"

1974 | Peak: #1

A tribute to her versatility as a vocalist, “Love is Like a Butterfly” also reflects her lyrical creativity.

The lilting melody is enhanced by a production that is country at the core, but has sprinklings of the psychedelic pop that the Beatles experimented with on Sgt. Pepper.

All in all, it’s an ambitious effort, so much so that it’s a bit disappointing that all this went in to female natural viagra a song about butterflies.  There were tracks on the album that were far more compelling, especially “You’re the One who Taught Me How to Swing” and “Blackie, Kentucky”, so this pretty piece of fluff isn’t representative of the project as a whole.

But if you like Dolly Parton and love butterflies, it’s a keeper.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: B

Next: The Bargain Store

Previous: Please Don’t Stop Loving Me (with Porter Wagoner)

 

 

 

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Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, "Please Don't Stop Loving Me"

1974 | Peak: #1

Their only chart-topping duet served as the mid-point between five consecutive #1 singles for Parton, while earning Wagoner his first #1 single since 1962.

As their remarkable partnership was beginning to break apart, the duo wrote this song together, and it speaks just as well to the impending doom of their professional generic viagra in canada life together as “I Will Always Love You” did.

Perhaps that’s what helped make it such a powerful song, with genuine desperation captured in the lyrics.   From this point on, Wagoner’s few remaining hits would come only through his duets with Parton, while this entire era of her career would soon be overshadowed by her phenomenal success as a crossover singer and media personality.

But at least on record for just under three minutes in 1974, it sounded like they both needed each other equally.

Written by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

Grade: A

Next: Love is Like a Butterfly

Previous: I Will Always Love You

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "I Will Always Love You"

1974 | #1

Where to start?  How do you begin a review of a song as seemingly universal as this one is?  I could go on about what a massive success this song was in all the different versions that were recorded.  But for now, I'll just talk about what a fine record this 1974 original is on its own merits.

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of country music history knows that Parton wrote the song for her mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was separating professionally at the time.  The song deals with feelings personal to Parton, but they are conveyed in a manner just vague enough that virtually any listener can connect the story with his or her own experiences.

But for all of Parton's formidable songwriting talent, what makes “I Will Always Love You” a great record goes beyond the lyric sheet.  This original 1974 recording is simply one of the finest displays that can be found of the deep sincerity that Parton has always brought to her performances.  Her vocal here is subtle and almost hushed, but she fills every crevice of the acoustic arrangement with her aching, nakedly honest delivery, while the melody of the song is just hauntingly beautiful.

There's not a trace of anger or animosity to be found – just honest, heavy-hearted resignation that the relationship could not be made to work, coupled with ongoing love, and hope for the loved one to find happiness.  Best of all, Parton is such a fine vocal interpreter that you get the sense that if she were singing the song directly to Wagoner, and to no one else, that it would still have sounded exactly as it does on the record here.

Without a doubt, there are clear reasons why “I Will Always Love You” is a classic.  Though this is only the beginning of the life that “I Will Always Love You” would take on over the years, this 1974 recording remains the definitive version of the song.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: A

Next:  Please Don't Stop Loving Me (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous:  Jolene

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "Jolene"

1973 | Peak: #1

This haunting little record went on to become Parton's most covered song.   Not bad for a humble tale of a woman simply begging another not to take her man.

One of the reason it works is that it's recorded in a minor key, which is still a rarity for country songs.   The instantly recognizable guitar hook played with solemn urgency practically drips with sorrow, setting up Parton to deliver a performance wrought with tension and fear.   She's begging him not to take her man, but everything about the record and her performance suggest she's already lost him and she knows it.

“Jolene” was the first of a string of five #1 singles for Parton, and it was also her only solo top ten hit in the United Kingdom.   Other artists have also had success with the song, most notably Olivia Newton-John, who spent three weeks at #1 atop the Japanese pop chart with her version, and the White Stripes, who had a successful live version that was a major rock hit in many markets.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: A

Next: I Will Always Love You (1974)

Previous: If Teardrops Were Pennies (with Porter Wagoner)

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Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, "If Teardrops Were Pennies"

1973 | Peak: #3

Released just before Dolly Parton's star would rise considerably, “If Teardrops Were Pennies” was a surprisingly big hit, becoming Porter & Dolly's highest charting single to date.

It's a simple country song, with their signature retro feel.  As I've written before, they're always most believable when they keep it country and focus on the heartache.

Originally a hit for Carl Smith in 1951, “Teardrops” sounds great on its own.   But like all of their duets at this particular point in time, it suffers in comparison to the forward-looking material that Parton was writing and recording at the same time.   They could have just as easily recorded this in 1967, and it would have sounded exactly the same.

Written by Carl Butler

Grade: B

Next: Jolene

Previous: Traveling Man

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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Shania Twain

It’s about time somebody did a Favorite Songs feature on Shania, isn’t it?  I was going to save this article for after we finished covering Shania in our Retro Single Review series, but I decided I just couldn’t wait that long.

Her astounding commercial success speaks for itself, as does her heavy impact on popular music, but I remain of the opinion that Shania Twain doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the artist she was – as a songwriter, or as a vocalist.  Her songs were clever, sassy, fun, and often tapped into deep wells of substance underneath all the catchiness.  Her distinct perspective was revolutionary for her time.  As an interpretive singer, she had a strong knack for finishing off her lyrical creations through her nuanced, dynamically layered performances.  Twain's remarkable talent combined with Mutt Lange's musical vision made her one of the biggest record sellers in history.  Ever since her heyday, countless young female stars have attempted to emulate her, but the magic Twain herself created with her delicious pop-country confections remains unreplicated.

I tend to become obsessed with one favorite Shania Twain song, and then move rapidly to another, so it’s not easy to assess which songs are my all-time favorites.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing after this article runs (though I’m fairly confident that my top three selections are set in stone).  At any rate, it will still be a fun look back on all the memorable tunes Shania gave us over the years, while also shining a spotlight on a few lesser-known tracks that we might have forgotten about.  As always, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section.

#25

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington)

Greatest Hits – 2004

I have at times referred to this song as a “guilty pleasure,” but then I realized that it’s such a great fun record that I don’t really feel guilty at all about loving it.  Silly “sexy in your socks” line aside, “Party for Two” is fun flirty tune that Twain and Currington sell with charm and enthusiasm.  Though more of a pop song than a country song, “Party for Two” is best heard in its country mix, as the pop version with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath tries a little too hard to sound pop, demonstrating that Shania often sounded best when still keeping a toe in country territory.  “Party for Two” served as Twain’s last Top 10 country hit to date.

#24

“Blues Eyes Crying In the Rain” (with Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson & Friends – Live and Kickin’ – 2003

Twain’s pop sensibilities certainly have no ill effect on her ability to tackle a traditional country classic with grace and ease, as evidenced by her beautiful cover of this beloved Willie Nelson hit, accompanied by the man himself.

 

#23

“Ka-Ching!”

Up! – 2002

Though largely known for her lighthearted frivolous side, “Ka-Ching!” – a deft takedown of commercial materialism – shows that Twain was still perfectly capable of addressing relevant social themes.

#22

“It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”

Up! – 2002

Though known for her positivity, Twain could still be surprisingly effective at conveying heartbreak.  Such is demonstrated by this Top 20 hit in which the protagonist strives to maintain optimism as she moves on after a breakup.  Still, the title hook shows that her heavy emotional pain remains constant.

#21

“Love Gets Me Every Time”

Come On Over – 1997

Hey, if you’re going to write a silly, cheesy song, you might as well do it thoroughly and shamelessly.  “Love Gets Me Every Time” combines a hillbilly catchphrase with an unshakable two-step-friendly musical hook to make a delightful ditty that just never seems to get old.

 

#20

“Coat of Many Colors” (with Alison Krauss & Union Station)

Just Because I’m a Woman:  Songs of Dolly Parton – 2003

It’s easy to see how Twain’s own impoverished upbringing might give her a special connection to this classic song, and to its timeless theme of love and family being worth far more than material possessions.  Indeed, “One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  Twain delivers the revered Dolly Parton lyric with authenticity and deep sincerity, while the unique touch of Alison Krauss’s backing vocal elevates the record further.

#19

“You Win My Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Written by Twain’s then-husband/producer Mutt Lange, this is the only song on Twain’s last three studio albums that she didn’t have a hand in writing.  The lyric is full of clever automobile-related metaphors, while the driving arrangement and the “Rev it up, rev it up ‘til your engine blows” hook practically beg to be blasted out one’s car windows.

#18

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

Come On Over – 1997

The sentiment is clear:  Shania Twain is not impressed by guys who are overly impressed with themselves.  One part sing-along, one part spoken word, with some steel guitar and cowbell hooks thrown in, it all adds up to one heck of a fun record.

#17

“Shoes”

Desperate Housewives soundtrack – 2005

It may have been recorded for a soundtrack, but make no mistake about it:  A song that compares finding the right man to finding the ideal footwear, noting that “Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap, some are good for bummin’ around on the beach” is classic Shania.  A clever song loaded with humorous double entendres, “Shoes” is good for a chuckle any day.

#16

“(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”

The Woman In Me 1995

The dance-friendly beat is hooky and infectious, but the content runs deeper.  At the heart of the song is a confident female protagonist who refuses to be taken advantage of.  If the guy’s not in it for love… she’s outta here.  This chart-topping hit established Twain’s distinct songwriting point of view, while helping to power her The Woman In Me album to 12x platinum sales.

#15

“I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”

Up! – 2002

Not really much to say about this one except that, as far as great pop-country hooks go, they don’t come much catchier than this.

#14

“Nah!”

Up! – 2002

A kiss-off tune that’s not nearly as bitter as such songs usually are, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  Twain almost seems to casually enjoy the moment of letting her no-good ex know that she’s done being mistreated by him.  She admits “I miss you now and then, but would I do it all again?”  The band abruptly stops playing as if to await her answer:  “Nah!”  Ouch.

#13

“Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore)”

The Woman In Me – 1995

It’s a shame this song didn’t make a bigger dent in history.  I’ve always considered it one of Twain’s most subtly moving performance as the female narrator mourns the deteriorating state of her marriage; while the song offers no full resolution of the story, save for Twain hoping “If we could only find that feeling once again… If we could only change the way the story ends.”

#12

“Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”

Come On Over – 1997

Because it makes me happy.  So there.

#11

“Leaving Is the Only Way Out”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The only song on any of Twain’s albums on which she takes sole writer’s credit, this is one of her best songs, as well as one of her countriest.  The refrain “If cryin’ is the only way into your arms, then leavin’ is the only way out” is nothing short of heartbreaking.

#10

“You’ve Got a Way”

Come On Over – 1997

Though I would recommend steering clear of the hokey Notting Hill pop remix, “You’ve Got a Way” remains one of Twain’s most beautifully understated, sincere performances on record, with the acoustic arrangement allowing her to positively shine.

#9

“Forever and For Always”

Up! – 2002

A gem of a love song with an effortlessly endearing melody and a deeply heartfelt performance on Twain’s part.  Though the song was remixed into an international pop smash, it remains best heard in its country form, in which Twain’s sentiments are driven home by subtle, beautiful strains of banjo and steel.

#8

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Right out of the starting gate, Shania’s first major hit, and first Lange-produced single release, delivers a powerful punch of her priceless personality.  With a bouncy fiddle-driven production, silly rhyme schemes involving the names of the cheating lover’s mistresses, and the delightfully cheesy bridge (“So next time you’re lonely/ Don’t call on me/ Try the operator/ Maybe she’ll be free”), “Whose Bed” is both shamelessly campy and tons of fun as a result.

#7

“Is There Life After Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

A rare thematic venture on Twain’s part to the wrong side of cheating.  She regrets her tryst, but regrets coming forward and confessing it even more, bemoaning “You gave me forgiveness, but you could not forget/ I should never have told you what I’ll live to regret.”

#6

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Come On Over – 1997

Well of course!  Who could leave out one of Shania’s most energetic, free-spirited, entertaining performances of her career?

#5

“Dance with the One That Brought You”

Shania Twain – 1993

An early Twain record from the days before she was singing her own self-written material, “Dance with the One That Brought You” marries twain’s beautifully nuanced vocal performance to a charming Gretchen Peters lyric and a gorgeous piano and steel-driven waltz of an arrangement.  It just might be one of Twain’s best moments on record, and yet Mutt Lange had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Who’da guessed?

#4

“You’re Still the One”

Come On Over – 1997

I love this song so, so much.  An unabashedly sincere vocal, shimmering production, and a lyric that encapsulates the firm commitment, pride in having overcome obstacles, and deep, genuine love of a couple that has remained together against all odds and expectations.  While I’ve long believed that commercial success does not equate to quality, I still say that this song was a massive hit because it deserved to be a massive hit.  A timeless, universal sentiment that touched pop fans and country fans alike, “You're Still the One” is pure pop-country perfection.

#3

“No One Needs to Know”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The best country songs are those that rely, not on words themselves, but on the feelings that the words and melodies tap into.  “No One Needs to Know” absolutely radiates with the giddiness and joy of a newfound love that only the narrator herself is to know of (which suggests that Taylor Swift is not kidding when she cites Twain as a major influence).  The infectious, stripped down acoustic arrangement, complete with dobro and steel chords, is a pure and simple delight.

#2

“Up!”

Up! – 2002

Twain has long been known for her incessant positivity – a consistent thread that ran throughout the Come On Over and Up! albums in particular, but was nowhere more concentrated than on the title track of Up!  It comes as a fist-pumping pop-anthem on the red disc; a sprightly banjo rocker on the green disc.  “Up!” is a hugely lovable ball of energy either way.  The production pulses with urgency as it underscores Twain’s spirited performance.  No matter what it is that’s got you down, Twain shouts “Up!  Up!  Up!  There’s no way but up from here!” until she has you believing it too.

#1

“Any Man of Mine”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Is there any other song in her catalog that so thoroughly sums up everything one could love about Shania Twain?  The energy of this performance leaps out your speakers, along with boot-stomping rhythm, the awesome fiddling, and all the signature Twain wit in the humorous lyrics.  I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that the line dance breakdown just might be my favorite part.

It was a bold artistic move and a substantial risk at the time of its release, yet it helped blaze a trail that female country artists are still following today.  But even when bringing it down to a personal, individual level, there are simply few other Shania Twain songs, hits or not, that put a skip in my step like this one does.  Shania's cheeky delivery makes me smile.  The lyrics make me laugh.  The beat makes me want to dance.  Any way you look at it, this song hits me just right.

The critic in me respects it.  The fan in me adores it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for some kicking, turning, and stomp-stomping…

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "Traveling Man"

1973 | Peak: #20

This could only be a country song.

Long story short, daughter's running around with a traveling salesman behind her mother's back.   Little does she know that mamma's running around with the same man.

Full of more country grammar than a Nelly record, Parton's 1973 re-recording of this Coat of Many Colors album cut is lighter and even more tongue-in-cheek than the 1971 original.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: B+

Next: If Teardrops Were Pennies (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous: We Found It (with Porter Wagoner)

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Donna Summer: The Country Connection

Donna Summer, disco legend, passed away today at the age of 63.

Much like my earlier post on Whitney Houston's untimely passing, writing about Summer's death isn't completely foreign to our topic of country music.

Whereas Dolly Parton wrote a #1 pop hit by Whitney Houston, Donna Summer wrote a #1 country hit for Dolly Parton.

“Starting Over Again” is anything but a disco number.  It's a tender tale of a middle-aged couple divorcing after their children are grown:

Reba McEntire also covered the song in 1995, taking it back to the top twenty:

Summer co-wrote many of her classic hits, including “Love to Love You Baby”, “Dim All the Lights”, “I Feel Love”, “Bad Girls”, and “She Works Hard for the Money.” But my favorite of her compositions is “On the Radio”, which I actually heard first by Emmylou Harris as a straight-up heartbreaking ballad:

Needless to say, I was taken aback by the disco beat when I finally heard Summer's original version.

I haven't been writing much lately, but I couldn't let the passing of this timeless talent go by without comment.  Like Houston before her, she was a great singer who went too soon, and country music's legacy was just a little bit richer for her passing through.

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