Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Dolly Parton, “Starting Over Again”

“Starting Over Again”

Dolly Parton

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.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Dolly did have this tendency to know what a good song was when she covered it, regardless of whether it fit in with the country genre or not; and “Starting Over Again” was a good case for making such a claim. It may actually be much closer to a pop-rock ballad, but its story of a middle-aged couple facing a divorce is, sadly, all too relatable.

  2. I love the Reba version too, but this is absolutely the best version. I prefer the more country Dolly but this is a great performance. She only had 3 albums with this producer but no other non-country producer brought out the Dolly magic better.

  3. Love Dolly’s version but I’m more partial to the Reba cover. Dolly does it the sad treatment but Reba sings it like the woman is upset but gonna be just fine! Great song proving that what makes a country song is more the lyrics and story than the instrumental.

  4. I first experienced Dolly Parton in the eighties as a caricature of herself. She was an overwhelming massive pop-country, multi-media celebrity. Knowing nothing of her past, she stood in line with Barbara Mandrell in my mind as a big-haired, blonde cornpone star, all sentimental style and no significant substance. A weirdo, I felt I had to apologize for as a fan of country music.

    Not only did I miss the tender nuances of her vocals beneath the gaudy pop production on this song, I didn’t even allow that they existed anywhere in her music. I dismissed her as a silly musician. I felt like she was playing at being country. Nothing was real.

    Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong had I wanted, or tried, to. Discovering Dolly Parton, the depth of her musicianship and personality, later in life was probably the single biggest revelation in my country music education.

    I have been happy enrolled in the school of continuing education with Dolly ever since.

    • I’m seeing something similar with Taylor Swift today. It’s hard for people to get their heads around the idea that one of the best songwriters of the 21st century likes to wear prom dresses. (And it’s not limited to country music. Madonna’s one of the greatest pop songwriters ever and some people still don’t even know that’s her real name, let alone that she’s written the vast majority of her songs.)

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