Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, “To Know Him is to Love Him”

“To Know Him is to Love Him”

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris

Written by Phil Spector

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

April 10 – April 17, 1987


#1 (1 week)

May 16, 1987

Trio is a landmark album that brought together the legendary talents of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris.  The material is uniformly strong and their harmonies are otherworldly.  “Telling Me Lies” and “Wildflowers” are two of the best singles of the decade.

But I’m here to write about “To Know Him is to Love Him,” which is the most polite and reserved track on the entire album, and the only one to reach number one on one of the two major singles charts.

It’s pleasant to the ears, and I love hearing an old fifties pop song awash in steel guitar and mandolin.  It serves as a wonderful proof of concept for the project.

But it never rises above just that: a way to showcase these three legendary singers in perfect harmony alongside the country instrumentation that Parton and Ronstadt had veered away from during the decade.  It would’ve fit perfectly on Emmylou’s Thirteen album, though.

Check out the album for far more compelling material, should these gorgeous harmonies entice you to do so.

“To Know Him is to Love Him” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. It was certainly a clever and rewarding idea to pair these three together, and the rewards were plentiful. I’m pretty sure they joined together for future recordings in the 90s, but without the chart success. I agree with your take here on this first single. It was probably the best launching pad for drawing attention to the project and ensuring commercial rewards, but it wasn’t the best song of the project. “Wildflowers” was definitely my favorite of the four hit singles. This one is certainly aurally pleasing but ultimately only memorable because it was the inaugural launch of the three legendary vocalists harmonizing together.

    Grade: B

  2. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Kevin. It’s a nice song but not the best by far on the incredible Trio album.

    I also agree that Telling Me Lies and Wildflowers are two of the best country songs of the decade.

    The harmonies on this track are beautiful but you can hardly hear Dolly. Emmylou does a very nice job on lead. However, when you listen to the entire album, you would probably not pick this song as the leadoff single.

  3. It is interesting to point out that the Nashville establishment initially hated Trio when it came out, because these three legendary ladies, who by the way became acquainted with one another as each individually became big in the 1970’s, didn’t record it in Music City, but in Los Angeles (owing to Linda’s reluctance to ever record anything of hers again in Nashville after what she felt was the debacle of her 1970 album Silk Purse), and because of its ultra-traditionalist bent in the pop/country crossover time of the mid/late 80’s. Arguably, however, this singular album triggered the flood of female artists that would come along in a few short years.

    I agree that “To Know Him Is To Love Him” is not the best showcase for them. It’s also tinged with a bit of controversy, considering that the mad genius who concocted it in the first place in 1958 ended up getting convicted on a homicide rap and dying in jail. Still, the album sold infinitely more copies to a wider audience than was typical for any country album in the pre-Garthmeister era, and that’s in no small measure due to the fact that these three ladies truly cared more about the quality of their project, and less about whether it was necessarily going to “sell”.

    • I think the timeline is a bit off here. Trio benefited from the new traditionalist movement that was well under way by the time it was released. If you look at the album charts where Trio is No. 1, it’s alongside George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Reba McEntire, The Judds, Randy Travis, Kathy Mattea, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and the O’Kanes.

      I believe there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for the project in the industry as well. It had been hyped for years, and Parton leaving RCA finally made it possible. At least that’s how it was covered in the trades at the time.

      • In a BBC-TV special about the album’s 30th anniversary in 2017. George Massenburg, who should know (he produced it), said: “It hit Nashville like a bomb; they loathed it[/b].” I think it had to do with the fact that it was made so far out of the purview of Music Row’s money men, who likely would have urged more pop crossover material. It really wasn’t until Trio had become a monstrous hit on both sides of the pop/country fence, particularly with fans of each of the three, that the powers-that-be at the time really “Saw The Light”, as it were (LOL).

        • Massenburg is serving up unadulterated, self-serving nonsense. This very feature contradicts what he’s saying. The New Traditionalist movement was in full swing and dominating the charts. Music Row was looking to make money off of the platinum plus-selling sounds of the Judds, Randy Travis, George Strait, and the Judds by this point in 1987.

          The Trio project was warmly embraced out of the gate at radio and retail. All of the trade articles prior to its release were focused on the long hyped album finally being recorded and released because Parton didn’t have a label at the time. The idea that the industry wouldn’t be excited about this project doesn’t pass the smell test. Three of the only female artists to ever sell gold plus, all of whom were deeply respected by their peers, collaborating on a long rumored album bringing the superstars together? Shortly after the Highwaymen got Cash and Kristofferson back to No. 1? Of course the industry was stoked for that.

          The producer’s spin makes for a great narrative – like Shania Twain’s Behind the Music posturing of “I fought Nashville and won!” – but it’s not what happened. There simply isn’t any contemporary evidence to support it.

          It reminds me of the revisionist history that Reba won her first Female Vocalist award because she went traditional country, when she actually won her first during the album cycle of a pretty terrible pop country album (Just a Little Love.) That myth was so embedded in Reba’s story that I quadruple checked the dates to make sure I wasn’t wrong.

          Trio made for a huge commercial comeback for Parton and Harris because they caught up with the current trends in country music.

          Parton hadn’t made roots music in years and Harris’ formula was running thin.

          Ronstadt was the only one of the three that was doing well at that point, and I’d argue that Trio was her least artistically challenging project of that time, coming between her standards work and her first Mexican album.

          Just a perfectly timed project, executed at the highest level of professionalism. I’m sure the response was beyond the wildest dreams of everyone involved. But there is zero evidence that Nashville loathed the project.

  4. What’s important is that I didn’t loathe this single!

    I am embarrassed to admit, however, I have still never listened to the “Trio” album.

    I am not embarrassed, however, to admit I still adore this hit. I had never heard of The Teddy Bears or their 1958 original recording of the song.

    The Trio harmonies sound lacy and delicate, the beautiful country instrumentation serves the song well.

    I do recall this single feeling special at the time. The tempo is so confident and controlled. Nothing else on the radio rang this clean and pure.

    This was the sound of pure professionalism.

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