The album title came first to Parton, who tells Billboard she’s had the project in mind for a bit, but it got delayed by her work on the soundtrack to the Netflix movie, Dumplin’ until she picked it back up this year.
“I thought, 'I think I'll call it A Holly Dolly Christmas because I love the song “A Holly Jolly Christmas” with Burl Ives. He used to be on all of my Christmas specials all through the years. I think of him as Mr. Christmas. I thought, ‘Why don't do I call it something cute and clever, like that or Deck the Halls with Boughs of Dolly, something corny like that.’”
As she collected songs for the project, she turned to one of her longtime friends: “One of my favorite songs ever is a traditional song now that Willie Nelson wrote called ‘Pretty Paper,’” Parton says of the Nelson tune first made famous by Roy Orbison and later cut by Nelson. “I did it the old-timey way and asked him to come be part of it.”
She also decided to cover a modern holiday classic, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
"I thought, ‘What other songs are really hot?’ And I thought, ‘All I Want for Christmas is You.' Jimmy Fallon, a couple of years ago, I was on his show around Christmas and he asked me to sing that and I didn't know it and I felt so bad. So I went and learned it and I was just going to put it on my album and then I went, ‘I’ll ask Jimmy Fallon to sing it with me!’ And he said, yes. So I'm really excited about that.”
Most of her duet partners recorded their parts separately from Parton, who finished the project with Wells after the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“We were working in our little circle with our masks and with our gloves and we had our engineer and we just had the very few people that we had to have when we were in there when I was singing,” she says. “They had done some of the tracks before the pandemic, but then we went in and started doing our vocals. We've been very smart, very careful, because we're trying to protect ourselves and I'm an older person. I'm not out to get it if I don’t [have] to, I'm hoping I can outrun all that. We've been all very, very smart, but it didn't slow us up.”
Over her six-decade career, Parton has released surprisingly few holiday-themed albums, most notably 1984’s double-platinum collaboration with Kenny Rogers, Once Upon a Christmas, and 1990's Home for Christmas, while a medley of “Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride, from a multi-artist compilation. hit the Hot Country Songs chart in 1999.
In addition to the A Holly Dolly Christmas, Parton has plenty of other music-themed projects coming this fall. On Nov. 17, Chronicle Books will release Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, a deluxe coffee table book looking at her career and life through 175 of her songs.
“A songteller is what I am, and this is my first-ever book of lyrics,” Parton said in a statement when the project was announced in June. “So, I’ve revisited my memories and opened up my archives to share the stories and treasures behind them in a way I never have before.” An accompanying audio book will come out the same day through Recorded Books.
Also this fall, Time Life will release The Ultimate Dolly Parton DVD collection.
See the A Holly Dolly Christmas Track Listing:
Holly Jolly Christmas - Dolly Parton
Christmas Is (feat. Miley Cyrus) - Dolly Parton
Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas - Dolly Parton, Michael Bublé
Christmas On The Square - Dolly Parton
Circle Of Love - Dolly Parton
All I Want For Christmas Is You - Dolly Parton, Jimmy Fallon
Comin’ Home For Christmas - Dolly Parton
Christmas Where We Are (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) - Dolly Parton
Pretty Paper - Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Dolly Parton
You Are My Christmas (feat. Randy Parton) - Dolly Parton
Mary, Did You Know? - Dolly Parton