“Starting Over Again”
Written by Bruce Sudano and Donna Summer
#1 (1 week)
May 24, 1980
Dolly Parton was already the biggest female star in country music when the eighties began. Her 1979 album Great Balls of Fire produced the No. 1 hit “You’re the Only One” and the top ten hit “Sweet Summer Lovin’.” She previewed her first album of 1980, Dolly Dolly Dolly, with a ballad co-written by disco superstar and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Donna Summer.
Parton’s heartbroken vocal captures the disorientation that any adult children would feel when their middle aged parents suddenly decide to divorce, and she’s especially powerful as she delivers the devastating bridge: “Facing fifty years old. Breaking up a happy home. And this far down the road, you find yourself alone. Two fools.”
Divorce played a role in some of the biggest and best country records well before “Starting Over Again,” but none of them had addressed a divorce quite like this one, where a much older couple suddenly realizes they have a way out of a marriage that is making them both unhappy. There’s a layer of judgment under the surface of wide-eyed disbelief in the lyric, but not an ounce of that judgment in Parton’s performance, perhaps because she had written so many songs herself about women without access to happiness. Her sadness is for the family being impacted by this breakup.
Parton kicked off a run of four consecutive No. 1 singles with this release, and they collectively refute the oft-held assumption that her pursuing the pop market meant the quality of her music was compromised.
“Starting Over Again” gets an A.