My favorite Dolly Parton songs through all space and time
These little provoked-by-nothing countdowns are something I used to do on my personal blog just to get the juices flowing. But, as my life has become more and more centered around blogging for a living, I’ve killed my personal blog and will now occasionally bring these contextually challenged lists into this space to spark a little conversation. I tend to find everyone is always scandalized by lists because I’m bound to leave out something they believe absolutely must be included. It’s a fun little exercise in subjectivity. So, the rule from here on out with my blog is that, if something is missing and you believe I’m dead wrong because I failed to include it, you are more than welcome to make your own list in the comments or via your own blog.
Now, without any further ado, in absolutely no specific order, here are my five favorite Dolly Parton songs through all space and time:
“The Grass is Blue”
This one is kind of obvious, I think. Maybe I just think that because I’ve seen so many people cover it lately, have heard several singer-songwriters credit it as the song that made them realize Dolly is a great songwriter. It’s not easy to write sarcasm into a song without coming off snobby or trite, but the line that makes this song manages to use sarcasm for what it’s good for: reverse psychology. (“I’m perfectly fine now and I don’t miss you / The sky is green and the grass is blue”.)
Dolly has done plenty of gospel tunes through the years, and I’m not typically a fan of this kind of melodramatic gospel stuff. Then the choir comes in, and I’m kind of a sucker for songs that build to the size of a gospel choir. The narrative is also a lot more complex and provocative than your typical “Just believe and praise”-themed gospel tune, which I appreciate.
“Coat of Many Colors”
When I saw Dolly here in Seattle last summer, the woman next to me started sobbing during this song. Dolly has called it her most autobiographical tune. I like it because it ties together spirituality, family, and the importance of one’s own self-worth. If there’s anything Dolly’s good at, it’s making about five points with one verse. I also love this video of her performing the song because you can hear her fingernails scraping against the strings. I long ago gave up the delusion of having pretty fingernails if I was going to play guitar, so I have to give credit where credit’s due. Anyone who can pick their way through a song with those nails deserves a tip of the hat.
“Here You Come Again”
This tune is cute and accessible, easy to listen to without really grasping all the complicated emotions about which she’s singing. But, hone in on the lyrics, and it’s at once a terribly sad song about resigning to love and an uplifting tune about being liberated by it. Maybe it’s just me, but so many of Dolly’s love songs strike me as sad. There’s something in her love songs that admits falling in love requires a bit of losing one’s self. There’s a subtle lament in each of them, and it pops up early on in this song. Besides, there’s the line about “looking better than a body has a right to”, which is one of my favorite in-song pickup lines ever.
“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”
This song is one of the few exceptions to what I just said about Dolly’s love songs being so stealthily sad. In fact, I would say it’s one of the most sincere, realistic love songs I’ve ever known. The problem with love songs, why generations of poets and songwriters have continued to write about love, is that it’s such an extraordinarily complicated emotion that can never possibly be summed up with a single word. Love in the real world is about transcendence and dedication. It’s never all that accessible or simple enough to nail in a rhyme. It’s hard and multi-faceted and must exist despite, or often because of, all of life’s other distractions and temptations. I know so few songs that really nail it, but this one comes remarkably close. It’s not one of her most celebrated songs, but it’s become an essential classic to me.
Okay, your turn…