Dolly Parton's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks
Since releasing her debut album, 1966’s Hello, I’m Dolly, over 50 years ago, Dolly Parton has changed the face of the entertainment industry, helping to kick down many doors for female performers in both country and pop music. Her catalog of hits reads like a “best of” list of the 1970s and 1980s, and along the way, she has conquered the worlds of books, television, and movies -- and pretty much whatever else she wants to do.
She has also developed one of the strongest song catalogs for any female singer-songwriter in any genre. As a writer, she has penned some of the most poignant and heartbreaking ballads about life in the Smoky Mountains where she grew up -- as well as some of the defining love songs of all time. In choosing our favorite Dolly Parton songs, we chose fifteen -- many from her own pen -- which will "Always" have staying power. To be fair, we could do a list of our favorite Dolly duets, but wanted to keep this one solo focused.
Best Songs: Alabama | Alan Jackson | Blake Shelton | Brad Paisley | Carrie Underwood | Dierks Bentley | Eric Church | George Jones | George Strait | Jason Aldean | Johnny Cash | John Denver | Keith Urban | Kenny Chesney | Kenny Rogers | Lady Antebellum | Miranda Lambert | Rascal Flatts | Reba McEntire | Shania Twain | Tim McGraw | Toby Keith | Willie Nelson | Zac Brown Band
15. Dolly Parton - "You’re The Only One"
One of the four songs on this list not written by Parton, this heartbreaking ballad was one of the centerpieces of the period where Parton’s music was beginning to gain favor with a wider audience than just country. At the time it topped the charts in the summer of 1979, this was Parton’s fifth straight number one in the country market, but also a Top 20 hit on the AC chart.
14. Dolly Parton - "Sweet Summer Lovin’"
Another song not from the Parton pen, this one featured some intriguing production that blurred the lines between country and disco, making for one of her more appealing departures of sound.
13. Dolly Parton - "Yellow Roses"
With Ricky Skaggs taking creative control of her 1989 album White Limozeen, Parton returned to her country roots with her most traditional album in ages. At the heart of that project was this exquisite ballad, which brought her a final solo number one hit.
12. Dolly Parton - "The Seeker"
One of the more unlikely Dolly Parton songs to be a hit record, this was a straight-ahead spiritual number. Fans resonated with the message about a person putting one foot forward though sometimes ending a couple back.
11. Dolly Parton - "Tennessee Homesick Blues"
Though the 1984 film Rhinestone didn't make any list of favorite films from critics that year, the movie’s breakout hit was one that Parton’s fans definitely latched on to. The melody and the instrumentation were very much influenced by her early, more Appalachian-infused work.
10. Dolly Parton - "Two Doors Down"
As a country hit, it barely made a ripple -- only charting as a B-side to her No. 1 hit “It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right,” but this Parton composition about a woman wanting to break the chains of the pain of a previous relationship found an audience in the pop world with its bouncy feel and sing-along chorus, giving her a rare Top 20 hit on the Hot 100 that wasn't a crossover hit.
9. Dolly Parton - "9 To 5"
Parton’s trek to pop culture stardom was forever solidified with her performance in the 1980 film of the same name, where she matched wits with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman. The song’s title cut was a tribute to all who slaved away too many hours for too little pay, ultimately striking a chord with both country and pop audiences, where it topped both lists.
8. Dolly Parton - "Coat Of Many Colors"
Sometimes, you have to write your ideas wherever you are at. In 1969, Parton was struck with the inspiration for this nostalgic ballad about a childhood memory, but she didn't have any paper with her -- so she wrote the song on a dry cleaning receipt. Two years later, she took the song to No. 4, but the song’s impact is still being felt over four decades later, serving as the inspiration for a pair of highly-rated NBC TV movies in 2015 and 2016.
7. Dolly Parton - "Love Is Like A Butterfly"
If Parton needed any affirmation that she was doing the right thing career-wise when she struck out on her own in 1974, this provided that feeling when it topped the chart in the fall of that year. It’s a luscious melody that stayed in your head, and perhaps the Dolly Parton song that inspired a fan to go the distance to show his devotion. One fan reportedly had the album cover tattooed on himself.
6. Dolly Parton - "Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You"
While many detractors in country music were talking about Parton’s defection to the pop music world, this 1980 number one showed that the singer could still be as “country” sounding as anybody. A song in which Parton is telling her lover not to be threatened by her past, she made this Patricia Sebert/Hugh Moffatt composition a classic.
5. Dolly Parton - "Touch Your Woman"
A 1972 hit for Parton, this was one of her first attempts to record a straight-ahead love song, rather than a nostalgic number dealing with her mountain roots. Some radio stations refused to play the song, deeming it too sexually suggestive. And, to be certain, it was no “Washday Blues,” but the Dolly Parton song definitely helped her to establish herself as one of the top singer-songwriters of her day.
4. Dolly Parton - "Jolene"
Two very different women helped to inspire this 1974 chart-topper. There was a little girl who came through Parton’s autograph line following a show -- and also a bank teller who the singer felt was flirting with her husband Carl early on in their marriage. However you look at it, this earnest plea to the other woman became a career song for Parton -- and one that she would revisit several times, including her recent collaboration with Pentatonix.
3. Dolly Parton - "The Bargain Store"
This 1975 jewel remains one of her most under-appreciated records. The lyrics -- all about the emotional wear and tear of previous relationships, and how they are not going to hold her back from pursuing a new love -- were pretty touchy for their time, and some radio stations resisted -- at first. However, the appeal of the song was too much, giving her not only a number one country hit, but one of her early records to cross-over, hitting No. 35 on the AC chart.
2. Dolly Parton - "I Will Always Love You"
When history is finally written, this will be regarded as one of the greatest love songs in music history. The inspiration for the song stems from Parton making the decision to cut the professional ties to Porter Wagoner in 1974. In doing so, she crafted a love song for the ages -- one that was a hit three (1974, 1982, 1995) for the singer, and also taken to new heights in 1992 by Whitney Houston on the soundtrack of The Bodyguard.
1. Dolly Parton - "Here You Come Again"
A rarity on several fronts: For starters, Parton didn't write the song, and she didn't even record it first. Her producer at the time heard the song on a B.J. Thomas record, and the song was actually written with Brenda Lee in mind. With all due respect to those legendary artists, Parton delivered a knockout punch to this Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song. It’s one of those songs that when you hear that signature keyboard intro, you were hooked. In 1977. And now.