Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton Week kicks off today with the first of two Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists entries.  Mine will follow later in the week, along with Classic Country Singles, Retro Album Reviews, Six Packs, and an Ultimate Buyer’s Guide, all focusing on the legendary Hall of Famer. – Kevin

There really isn’t anything that Dolly Parton can’t do. She has a voice like an angel, but is also capable of showboating with the best of them. She plays several instruments, has written more than her share of classic songs, is an actor, owns a popular amusement park and, most importantly, is involved in many philanthropic efforts.

Starting with traditional annual viewings of A Smokey Mountain Christmas on the Disney Channel, Dolly Parton is one of those people that I loved before I even knew what music genres were, let alone country music in particular. So, while I was nervous about whittling down my favorite Dolly songs to a mere 25, I couldn’t resist the chance to participate in Dolly Parton week at Country Universe.

While this is a list of my favorite Dolly songs, I fully realize that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of her deep catalog with the songs that I’ve chosen.

Joshua, 1971

This is a strange little story, but Dolly proves that she’s a great storyteller. There’s talking, singing and even a little yodeling. What more can you ask for in a song?

Jolene, 1974

While it’s true that whenever I think of this song, I am reminded of The White Stripes’ intensely insane version that makes Parton’s version sound considerably tame, “Jolene” is still one of my favorite Dolly songs. She sings with her own quiet intensity that makes us appropriately feel for the jilted woman.

Backwoods Barbie, 2008

I just think this song is fun. She’s calling this guy out on all of his crap and I suspect that nobody can give a dressing down quite as effectively as Dolly can.

“More Where That Came From”
Slow Dancing With The Moon, 1993

I was actually aware of this song before and liked it despite it being featured on recent Target commercials. She’s trying to convince her experienced man that she’s the one with whom he should settle down. After she gives him a list of things she can do to keep him happy, one can only imagine what she means by “There’s more where that came from.”

“Cry, Cry, Darlin’”
Sing The Songs Of Bill Monroe, 2002

For the record, this tribute album to Bill Monroe, spearheaded by Ricky Skaggs, is no doubt worth purchasing. Dolly’s contribution is one of the clear highlights on an all around stellar record.

“My Tennessee Mountain Home”
My Tennessee Mountain Home, 1973

Dolly’s love of her family is evident throughout her career. She’s proud of where she came from and hasn’t forgotten to pay tribute to her roots no matter how famous or glamorous she’s become. This song is one of the superior tributes.

“The Twelfth Of Never” (with Keith Urban)
Those Were The Days, 2005

All of the covers of this Johnny Mathis song have been pretty, but slow. However, this version by Dolly and Keith Urban is sped up quite a bit with a banjo added for good measure. While Dolly often tends to overshadow her male duet partners, Urban manages to hold his own in this recording.

“I’ll Make Your Bed”
Slow Dancing With The Moon, 1993

While this song is somewhat silly, I love the sparse production. Likewise, Dolly sings with unusual restraint. She admits that there are a lot of things that won’t make her housewife of the year, but she assures, “you won’t go hungry and I’ll make your bed.”

“Traveling Man”
Coat Of Many Colors, 1971

This poor girl is so worried that her mother wouldn’t approve of her “steppin’ out with that travilin’ man” that she’s blindsided when her mother is actually the one to run off with him. Dolly’s little rant at the end is priceless. Fun stuff!

“Daddy’s Old Fiddle” (with Charlie Daniels)
Deuces, 2007

I’m typically not much of a Charlie Daniels fan, but I’m really glad I picked up this album on a whim. I like just about everything on it, but this duet with Dolly is one of its highlights. It’s catchy and Dolly adds her signature quirkiness that elevates the song to something it wouldn’t have been without her.

“Cash On The Barrelhead”
The Grass Is Blue, 1999

I’ll admit that it took some effort not to fill this entire list with songs from Dolly’s trio of bluegrass albums. Limiting them to five was rather difficult, but this is one of the many superb covers that can be found on them. I love this song and I love Dolly, so it stands to reason that this would be my favorite version of this widely covered classic.

“Shattered Image”
Halos And Horns, 2002

While I like Dolly’s original version of this song, from her All I Can Do album, I think this version is superior, likely due to the bluegrass production. There are so many lines that I love in this song that I must refrain from quoting the whole thing. My favorite verse, however is: “If you live in a glass house don’t throw stones/Don’t shatter my image ’til you look at your own/Look at your reflection in your house of glass/Don’t open my closet if your own’s full of trash.” Words to live by, don’t you think?

“9 to 5”
9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, 1980

While many people aren’t necessarily working 9 to 5 jobs these days, this is still a great relatable working person’s anthem that has stood the test of time. I never fail to blast it from my speakers when I get the chance.

“To Daddy”
I Will Always Love You: The Essential Dolly Parton One

As the story goes, this gem penned by Dolly was originally slated to be included on her All I Can Do album until she heard Emmylou Harris’ version. She liked Emmylou’s version so much that she replaced her own version with another song. While Emmylou’s rendering is worth seeking, I’m glad Dolly finally included her own version for this Hits project. She sings this heartbreaking tale of a Mamma finally reaching her breaking point and leaving her family with both a twinge of regret and sympathy. To make the song more intriguing, it’s debatable whose side the child narrator is on, though I’ve personally chosen a side.

“Little Sparrow”
Little Sparrow, 2001

I actually usually prefer it when Dolly belts out in her songs, but it’s also nice when she shows vocal restraint once in awhile, which is what she does in “Little Sparrow.” This is an achingly beautiful song with harsh lyrics: “All ye maidens fair and tender/Never trust the hearts of men/They will crush you like a sparrow/Leaving you to never mend.” Ouch!

“Put A Little Love In Your Heart”
Slow Dancing With The Moon, 1993

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for these hippie inspirational songs that promote love and peace. Who better to cover a song like this than Dolly Parton? You can tell that she means every word of it, which, in turn, makes me want to live it.

“Rockin’ Years” (with Ricky Van Shelton)
Eagle When She Flies, 1991

I love this song! It’s both simple and gorgeous and there’s just something calming about it. Ricky Van Shelton’s deep voice meshes perfectly with Dolly’s to create this waltz that celebrates the longevity of love.

“Just Because I’m A Woman”
Just Because I’m A Woman, 1968

In this song, Dolly points out to her lover that it’s not fair for him to be able to have a past, but just because she’s a woman, an equal past is somehow unacceptable. She rightly sings, “Just let me tell you this/Then we’ll both know where we stand/My mistakes are no worse than yours/Just because I’m a woman.” While this song is forty years old, the premise remains relevant today, which is disheartening.

“The Grass Is Blue”
The Grass Is Blue, 1999

Unless she can pretend that “the opposite’s true”, she’ll never be able to get over her lost love. As the title suggests, “The Grass Is Blue” is a clever lyric. It’s the same concept as George Strait’s “Ocean Front Property”, but far superior.

“Hard Candy Christmas”
The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, 1982

Ah…a Christmas song! Not a very joyful one though. Sadly, it captures the way many people end up feeling at Christmas time all too well. While I love Christmas, this is one of the songs that helps to give me perspective about those who are rightfully less enthused than I am about it.

“Islands In The Stream” (with Kenny Rogers)
Eyes That See In The Dark, 1983

I’m fully aware that this cheesy song that really makes no sense would not end up on very many people’s favorite Dolly Parton lists. In fact, my husband is a little horrified that this song makes an appearance on my list at all, especially at the expense of songs that he deems far more superior. With that said, there is absolutely no way that I could take this Kenny Rogers duet off of my list. It’s bouncy and I love the way Dolly and Kenny play off of each other. Kenny is right when he says that the song was lifeless before Dolly added her vocals and personality to it. I enjoy this song so much that I don’t even notice the eighties production that I would normally detest.

“Marry Me”
Little Sparrow, 2001

The way that Dolly sings this song with joyful exuberance is absolutely endearing. The fact that it’s pure bluegrass ear candy doesn’t hurt either.

“Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”
New Harvest…First Gathering, 1977

I love this inspiring song of perseverance. It starts off slow, as if she’s trying to convince herself of the truths of which she is singing. As the song progresses, however, the vocals and the song as a whole get stronger and more convincing, as if she’s finally starting to believe her own pep talk. By the end, I believe her.

“Creepin’ In” (with Norah Jones)
Feels Like Home, 2004

Norah Jones clearly has a respect for country music and most particularly, Dolly Parton. I simply can’t get enough of this song. They sound excellent together and it actually sounds as if they’re really enjoying themselves. Moreover, you can’t miss Dolly’s signature laugh at the end.

“Coat Of Many Colors
Coat Of Many Colors, 1971

As it seems to be with most of the songs that end up at the top of my Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists lists, this is certainly not an original or surprising choice. Much has been written about this song, including the fact that the inspiration for it came from Dolly’s real life experience, which is heartbreaking to say the least.

It’s about how her mama painstakingly made a coat of many colors out of a box of small rags for her, because they were too poor to buy her anything else. While she made the coat, she told her the Bible story of Joseph’s special coat of many colors. The story of Joseph’s coat and the fact that the coat was made with her mother’s loving hands made her innocently proud to wear the coat to school, whereupon the other kids laughed and made fun of her. While the teasing confused her and likely embarrassed her, the sweetest part of the song is that she understood the significance of the coat. She understood that the coat was the best that her mother could do. Therefore, she appreciated it despite the memories of social awkwardness that it likely created in her young life.

There are many things that are noteworthy about Dolly Parton, but her sincerity and a heart that truly cares about the human condition is what is most impressive about her. This sensitive heart is what is sufficiently evident in both her life and her songs. There is no doubt that the one who created Dolly’s coat of many colors is the one who also helped to lay the foundation for the Dolly Parton that was able to so eloquently teach us “That one is only poor/Only if they choose to be.”


  1. Great list! I need to buy some Dolly albums, I only have two songs, “Dark As A Dungeon” and “Better Get To Livin'”. I’ve heard the CD Little Sparrow on lastfm, and it sounds amazing and I really want it. xD

    This list just cements the fact that I need some more Dolly music.

  2. Great list, Leeann. I’m not familiar with much of Dolly’s work beyond the hits and the bluegrass albums, so quite a few of your picks are new to me. I’ll have to give them a listen.

  3. Excellent list, and I’m also very excited for the Buyer’s Guide, as my Dolly collection sounds a lot like CM’s at this point. It’s hard to know where to start with someone like her.

  4. Great choices, LeeAnn.
    Here’s mine…

    10. Appalacian Memories (aka Smokey Mouintain Memories) For years Dolly sang this gem in concert, always dedicating it to her hard working daddy, and to all the daddies in the audience. The song is about her dad moving up north to Detroit to work at the auto plants, but getting homesick for the family he left behind.

    9. Lonely Comin’ Down. Porter wrote this one – She wakes up to find her man gone…then she felt the lonely comin’ down…

    8. Yellow Roses. From one of my favorites, “White Limozeen”. Her man gave her a yellow rose when they first met, and on many occasions there after…and he give her one when he left. “You said goodbye like you said hello, with a single yellow rose”. Even though this was a number one, Dolly refused to sing it in concert claiming it was to sad of a song (she’s got some real weepers, so there must be a little more to that story…)

    7. Drifting Too Far From the Shore – this one is the last duet Dolly and Porter did – it was on his final album “Best of Grand Old Gospel 2008” Makes me wish they would have done a whole album. They both do a beautiful job, and Dolly sings her own harmony which turned out great – give it a listen, you won’t be sorry.

    6.It’s All Wrong, But Its All Right – Love these sexually-charged songs…Conway had some great ones, and this ranks up there too – Best Line; “It may be wrong if we make love, but I just need someone so much”

    5. We Had It All – from the Great Pretender album – might be too 80’s sounding for some folks, but the emotion in her voice is amazing. There are two versions of this…the first is better, but only available on the out-of-print original LP. Some “Best Of’s” include the re-mixed, slightly different version.

    4. The Pain of Loving You – Both versions are great – Dolly and Porter, and Dolly/Linda/EmmyLou – also Makin’ Plans was done by both Porter and the Trio – another great song…

    3. Backwoods Barbie – A great sequel to “Coat of Many Colors” – “I’m Just a backwoods barbie – too much make-up too much hair, but don’t be fooled by thinkin’ that the goods are not all there…”

    2. Just When I needed you Most – from her “Treasures” album…great harmony from her old friend Alison Krause and Dan Tyminski…Should have been a big hit…country radio felt otherwise.

    1. I Will Always Love You (1982) From the best Little Whorehouse in Texas – Dolly scored a number one record with this twice – in ’74 and again in ’82…I personally like this version best…

    Thats my list today – tomorrow might be something totally different – so many of Dolly’s great songs are buried on albums and were never released as singles…

  5. I love Dolly’s “Marry Me” as well as most of her Bluegrass. She has an amazingly unique voice, very well suited to that genre. What a talent!

    Also, Dolly’s “Marry Me” reminds me of Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr.’s great Bluegrass song “Big Chance”…Both are similar in subject and theme, both are uptempo, and humorous.

  6. With the exception of “Jolene” , “Coat of Many Colors”, “Joshua”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”, “Kentucky Gambler” and “Mule Skinner Blues” and the Trio recording of “Those Memeories of You”, most of my favorite Dolly reordings were done with Porter Wagoner as her duet partner. There are too many outstanding Porter & Dolly tracks to list but I’ve always liked “Last Thing On my Mind” and Lost Foever In Your Kiss”

  7. I loved your list. I’m such a huge Dolly fan and have so many favorites, but here are the top songs that have really impacted my life and that I can relate to!

    1. Of course, coat of Many colors–the message behind it and the sould touching way she sings it and can really reach your heart. To see her sing it now on stage as she cradels her autoharp and talks about her late mother brings tears to my eyes!

    2. Light of A Clear Blue Morning! My own song of deliverance. No matter what, “It’s all gonna be alright, its gonna be okay, cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning!”

    3. Travelin’ Thru–a song so worthy of the oscar that it didnt’ win! A song chronicling someone travelin’ thru life just doing the best that they can konwing that they are here for reason and have a purpose and just trying to figure it out. A song I think everyone of every walk can relate too!

    4. Paradise Road–this song tells about how her “kingdom within” helped her through a childhood of poverty. I can just relate to having that place inside to retreat to when life gets too tough–I just love it!

    5. Wildflowers–she is someone who wants more in life than the garden variety of flowers that she is surrounded by, so she uproots herself and flies with the wind to fulfill her dreams. Incredible!!

    My list could go on and on, but those are the most touching to me!

  8. All time favourites are;

    Eagle when she flies
    Smokey Mountain Memories
    Paradise Road
    Light of a clear Blue Morning
    Travelling Thru
    Green Eyed Boy
    Better Get to Livin’
    The Grass is Blue
    The Beautiful Lie
    I am Ready
    Welcome Home
    Hello God
    Heaven’s Just A Prayer Away
    Crimson & Clover
    Sweet Summer lovin’

    I could go on…….

  9. WOW! I really enjoyed reading the series of posts written. You all are so great!

    Sheldon, I really agree with the comment that you have written, you said it so well: “so many of Dolly’s great songs are buried on albums and were never released as singles…”

    1)The Stranger
    I am not sure if this song has ever been recorded. I heard it the first time on a Kenny & Dolly CD and Kenny Rogers actually sang the song…he called it his favorite Dolly song. I also saw Dolly perform the song on her most recent variety show on ABC, with Ned Beatty playing the father. It is the only Dolly song that really gets me, over and over. “…and Mama don’t need you anymore and I don’t need you like before, you can go on back to where you were before, you’re just a stranger.” It is just a powerful song.
    2)Silver Dagger
    A new recording but it really sounds like a vintage Dolly song, like My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. I never tire of it. It is haunting and it is good.
    3)Jesus & Gravity
    If you ever had trouble simplifying your life and getting back to basics, this song puts it all in perspective.
    4)She Never Met a Man She Didn’t Like
    I heard this song, for the first time when I was in high school. It was on a re-issued record, with Mule Skinner Blues and this instantly became my favorite song.
    5)Falling out of love with me
    All I Can Do is my favorite Dolly album of all time. I was listening to this album outside and I noticed that the birds were singing along to this song. I never forgot that. And I am not kidding!
    6)Here I Am
    This song was on the Coat of Many Colors album and I love it!
    7)Dagger Through the Heart
    The video for this song was dramatic and poignant and really conveyed the sadness of the lyrics. Kind of reminded me of Sinead O’Connor.
    8)It’s Too Late to Love me Now
    Heartbreaker was a slick, city record. It’s a fun album. This song is like someone opening the window and letting some fresh air in.
    9)Appalachian Memories
    Everyone needs to be reminded of the sacrifices people make.
    10)We Used to
    Haunting song, on the same album as I Will Always Love You, the original.
    11)Time and Tears
    The album Hungry Again is one of my favorites, maybe my second favorite and this song and the next two are from that album.
    12)The Camel’s Heart
    13)When Jesus Comes Calling for me
    14)A Little At a Time
    This is a really funny song and even though it was recorded a long time ago and I am not sure if stores do layaways any more but I think it is still relevant. “I want to put a dollar on my mink collar.”
    15)Act Like A Fool
    This is from the Heartbreak Express album and showcases Dolly’s voice a little differently. It is also a song that keeps repeating in my head over and over. Not that I act like a fool or anything.
    16)Steady as the Rain
    I love the Banjo on this song, it’s like Time and Tears.
    17)Marry Me
    I think a lot of us agree about this song.
    18)Kentucky Gambler
    Merle Haggard sang this song and I am sure that Dolly sang sang in the background. I love all the versions, as this is a great song and like many of the story songs, it always has a twisted ending.
    19)Elusive Butterfly
    I never heard this song before, so, for me, when I heard it on The Great Pretender, it was kind of brand new and I love it.
    20)River of Happiness
    I think this was on the Jolene album, which harkens back to my youth. Great song.
    21) I Feel the Blues Movin’ In
    Del McCoury sang this song too but I really like Dolly’s version.
    22) Life’s Like Poetry
    This is a Merle Haggard song and it’s on the All I Can Do album. It is a sweet song.
    23) Stand By the River (with Dottie Rambo)
    Gosh, I saw this on You Tube and it just makes you feel good!
    24) The Blues Man (with George Jones)
    If ever there was a song that conveys the love and gratitude between a couple, this is it. Two are better than one, because if one falls, the other is there to pick him up. I think that is in the Bible.
    25) Love is Like a Butterfly
    FLASH: SIGNATURE SONG!!! This is one of two songs that makes you think Dolly Parton (the other is Coat of Many Colors).

    There are so many other songs that I wanted to include like TOUCH YOUR WOMAN, the Melissa Etheridge duet from CMT Crossroads BRING ME SOME WATER, The Grass is Blue, the Brad Paisley Duet, I’m Gone, Mountain Angel, Big Wind…it is really challenging to narrow it down to just 25 songs. It just makes you realize what an unbelievable talent Dolly Parton has, to still be a relevant and significant artist for so many decades. And the irony that while some get caught up with the exterior, a very real, a very authentic heart and soul, an American original resides under all that stuff. All you need to do is to listen.

    God bless Dolly Parton for her courage, her strength..she has made such a difference in so many lives!

  10. You left out I Will Always Love You. Anways Dolly needs your help. At country weekly.com there is a poll of country’s most beautiful women vote for Dolly and lets get here on the list. Thanks

  11. Wait a sec…I’ve had Dolly Parton on my iPod all these years and didn’t know about it? Creepin’ In is my favorite Norah Jones song. I didn’t know it had Dolly Parton in it! :O

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