Picking out a top 10 from Dolly Parton songs is not an easy feat because how can we judge such hit after hit catalog? Ever since she started her country music career in 1967 with her debut album Hello, I’m Dolly, she managed to take the industry by storm with her self-penned songs. She has charted 25 number one songs and 41 Top 10 country albums among a few of her impressive achievements in a span of her over five-decade career.
If this is your first dip into Dolly Parton songs, then this list would be perfect for you. Listen to her timeless pieces that will definitely transport you back from the ’60s to the ’80s. It’s a mix of her classics, the most popular, and a sprinkle of songs only hard-core fans would know.
Anyway, since picking 10 is hard enough, ranking would be even more difficult, so we listed the songs chronologically because we have no biases. Enjoy!
1. Coat of Many Colors, 1971
This song was one of Dolly’s personal favorites from her vast catalog. In an episode of The Late Night Show, she shared that it was her favorite song from a very personal level, and it was more than just a coat. It was a story about her mom, her family, acceptance, and tolerance. It was a song that even spoke of bullying as kids back then made fun of her at school.
In her 1994 memoir, she recounted how she composed the song in 1969 on the back of a dry cleaning receipt from one of Porter Wagoner’s suits (which he framed after the song became a hit). She recorded the song in 1971 as the title track of her album of the same name. One of the most popular covers of the song was performed by Shania Twain with Alison Krauss and Union Station. Shania Twain also performed the song with Dolly Parton herself.
2. Jolene, 1973
This song is Dolly Parton’s most covered song, inspired by a redhead bank clerk who flirted with her husband, Carl Dean. She also revealed that the name and appearance of Jolene was based on a young fan who asked for her autograph on stage.
In a 2018 interview on The Bobby Bones Show, Dolly shared that she wrote this song on the same day that she wrote what would be another hit song of hers, I Will Always Love You. In 2004, Jolene was named as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. This song was also covered by Miley Cyrus, Dolly Parton’s godchild!
3. I Will Always Love You, 1974
No Dolly Parton list would ever be complete without this song (and Jolene). This song was written as a farewell to Dolly’s former business partner as well as a mentor of seven years, Porter Wagoner, as she pursued her solo career. This song beautifully told of a breakup story that envisioned respect as they parted.
I Will Always Love You garnered attention and earned commercial success. In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded her version of the song for her debut film The Bodyguard, which escalated the song into a different paradigm of success.
4. Love is like a Butterfly, 1974
This song was Parton’s fourth No. 1 and also her third consecutive number 1 after Jolene and I Will Always Love You. According to Dolly, butterflies have always been her symbol. Back when she was young, she would get lost chasing them and would often get her butt whipped off for wandering so far off. For her, butterflies represent freedom and beauty.
In 1976, she used this as her opening theme for her variety show Dolly!, and a version of the song sung by Clare Torry was used as the theme song of BBC TV comedy series Butterflies.
5. The Bargain Store, 1975
This chart-topper song was Parton’s fifth number one on the country chart as a solo artist. It used the metaphor of a second-hand merchandise as a woman emotionally damaged by a relationship. While it was one of Dolly’s most celebrated songs, it was dropped by a number of country radio stations as they misinterpreted one line as a subtle reference to prostitution.
In pop culture, this song was featured in the first season of Stranger Things. In the chapter 6 episode The Monster, the song played while Nancy and Jonathan were gearing up to trap the Demogorgon.
6. Here You Come Again, 1977
This song was written by Bary Mann and Cynthia Weil, one of the few songs in Dolly’s catalogue that she did not write in 1975. They first offered to Brenda Lee, but she ultimately decided not to record it. Before Dolly, B.J. Thomas first recorded the song for his self-titled album in 1977.
This song defined Dolly’s crossover from country to pop, which earned her first Top 10 Pop hit. In The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Dolly’s producer Gary Klein shared with Tom Roland that Dolly begged him to countrify the pop tune. And so they brought in steel guitarist Al Perkins for the job. Dolly wanted to broaden her fanbase but not at the expense of her country roots.
7. Two Doors Down, 1978
Two Doors Down is one of the most interesting songs of Dolly Parton in terms of back story. Dolly was supposed to release the song in 1978 as the second single of her album Here You Come Again. But singer Zella Lehr released a cover version of it before she could, and the version landed on the top ten of U.S. country hits.
Instead of competing with Lehr’s country version, Dolly re-recorded the song with a more loose and pop vibe with a slight disco flavor. The song did not initially get the same reception as Lehr’s in-stream and attention, but it did catch up. The song charted and over the years, it became the more prominent version of the song.
8. 9 to 5, 1980
If you have ever felt overworked, underpaid, and disrespected – like many women today – then this Dolly Parton song is definitely your anthem. This song was written by Dolly for the comedy film of the same name where she also made her acting debut with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
The film was definitely a success hitting number 2 at the box office that year. And the theme song, which started with a typewriter sound, earned Dolly an Oscar nomination and four Grammy award nominations. Out of the four Grammys, she bagged the Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
9. Islands in the Stream, 1983
This song, originally penned and later recorded by the Bee Gees, was named after the novel of the same name written by Ernest Hemingway. It was actually initially intended as an R&B tune for Marvin Gaye but ultimately finished as a country-pop crossover.
The song was first performed by Dolly Parton with fellow country music artist Kenny Rogers knocking off Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart at the number one spot. It was Rogers’ and Parton’s second pop number one hit (after Parton’s 9 to 5). The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the song as Platinum after selling over two million physical copies.
10. Why’d You Come In Here, 1989
This song was written by Bob Carlisle and Randy Thomas for Dolly’s first single on the album White Limozeen. Why’d You Come Here was about a woman who was confronted by her past and present love interests told in a beautiful and colorful music video.
This earned Dolly her eighteenth number one on the country chart. She performed the song in one episode of the Saturday Night Live, which she also hosted.
Other Dolly Parton songs you need to hear
If you ever feel a little bit blue and you just want to refresh with some country tunes, you can never go wrong with a playlist of Dolly Parton songs.
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