10 Best Dolly Parton Songs
Parton is the most honored female country singer/songwriter of all time.
Dolly Parton; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
When it comes to the Queen of Country Music, Dolly Parton is the indisputable winner.
Truly a rags to riches story, Parton first broke onto the scene as a highly regarded songwriter, later taking a stab in the spotlight in 1967 with the release of her debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly. Over the last five decades, Parton has delivered timeless hits, sold more than 100 million records around the globe, 25 No. 1 singles countless award nominations and composed over 3,000 songs.
Outside of music, Parton has also found success as an actress, philanthropist and entrepreneur. From her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to the famous Imagination Library, Parton has shown what it truly means to use your platform for good… while also delivering some absolute bangers along the way.
On May 11, Parton will take the stage in Frisco, Texas alongside fellow country music legend Garth Brooks as the pair host the 58th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, an honor which she also held at last year’s ceremony in Las Vegas.
Ahead of the momentous occasion, here are 10 of the best Dolly Parton songs:
10. Heartbreak Express
Written by Dolly Parton (1982)
An often overlooked tune in Parton’s extensive catalogue, “Heartbreak Express” was the second single and title track from her 24th studio album. The 1982 jazzy tune tells the story of a woman ditching a failed relationship and hitching a ride on the heartbreak express. While the song only peaked at No. 7 on the country charts, this record found Parton returning back to her country roots after a departure to more pop pastures in the years prior.
9. The Bargain Store
Written by Dolly Parton (1975)
This 1975 tune was perceived as one of Parton’s more risqué singles, though the lyrics weren’t intended to be that way. Using a metaphor of a second-hand shop to refer to a woman’s broken, love-scorned heart, country radio programmers interpreted the song as a reference to prostitution. The song goes, “Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise / and I can guarantee you’ll be completely satisfied,” so we can see where they were coming from. “The Bargain Store” eventually became Parton’s fifth trip to the top of the charts and was a top 40 crossover hit on the AC charts.
8. Two Doors Down
Written by Dolly Parton (1977)
“Two Doors Down” was featured on 1977’s Here You Come Again and has quite an interesting back story. As the B-side single to “It’s All Wrong, but It’s All Right,” Parton was originally set to release the track in 1978, but country singer Zella Lehr released a cover version before Parton had the chance. While the Lehr version cracked the top 10 on the country charts, Parton’s version didn’t make many waves in the country genre. However, her version was a top 20 hit on the Hot 100.
7. Islands In The Stream (with Kenny Rogers)
Written by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb (1983)
One of the most memorable duets in country music history–and a favorite for karaoke bars everywhere–”Islands In The Stream” sees Parton teaming up with country icon Kenny Rogers for the first time in what would become a long series of collaborations for the two legends. The multi-million selling, Platinum-certified single topped both the country and pop charts, and was one of the rare outside cuts from Parton, originally written for Marvin Gaye.
6. Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That
Written by Bob Carlisle, Randy Thomas (1989)
Another outside cut, this rowdy tune was included on Parton’s 1989 album White Limozeen, which was produced by Ricky Skaggs. The record came after a bit of a lull for the Tennessee native, whose Rainbow album and attempted variety show proved rather disappointing. White Limozeen propelled Parton back into the limelight, and the unapologetically country track spent 13 weeks on the country charts, marking her 18th career chart-topper.
5. 9 to 5
Written by Dolly Parton (1980)
When it comes to iconic hits from Parton, this one has to be one of the most recognizable. “9 to 5” served at the title track to the 1980 movie of the same name, which also saw Parton make her debut on the silver screen. As the movie rose to No. 2 in the box office, the tune sat atop both the country and pop charts. The ode to overworked and underpaid women earned Parton her first Oscar nomination, as well as four GRAMMY nominations. She took home two of the GRAMMY trophies for the song, including Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
4. Here You Come Again
Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil (1977)
Originally recorded by B.J. Thomas and written for Brenda Lee, Parton took this track to new heights with her 1977 version. “Here You Come Again” was the title track and lead single from her 1977 record and became Parton’s first taste of crossover success as the song reached the top of the country charts and rose to No. 3 on the all-genre charts. Parton earned the Best Female Country Vocal Performance honor at the 1979 GRAMMYs for the song and it anchored her very first million-selling album, too.
3. Coat of Many Colors
Written by Dolly Parton (1971)
Parton has always been very honest of her humble beginnings in rural Tennessee on the edge of poverty, and none of her songs encompass this better than “Coat of Many Colors.” One of 12 children, Parton penned this autobiographical song about her mother stitching together a “coat of many colors” from an array of old rags. Pulling parallels from the biblical story of Joseph and his garment of the same nature, the touching tune is centered around family, acceptance and perseverance. Serving as the title track of her 1971 album, the song, which peaked at No. 4 on the country charts, has spurred a children’s book and a pair of TV movies.
Written by Dolly Parton (1973)
Another career-defining hit for Parton, “Jolene” is her most covered song of all time with artists like Pentatonix, Miley Cyrus, Ellie Goulding and many more releasing their own takes on the iconic jealousy-tinged track. The lead single and title track of her 1974 record, “Jolene” was one of Parton’s signature autobiographical tunes and reached the pinnacle of the country charts with moderate success at both pop and AC radio, as well.
1. I Will Always Love You
Written by Dolly Parton (1974)
Capping off our list of Parton’s best songs has to be what is considered one of the most epic love songs of all time. Written in regard to Parton’s professional breakup from country icon and long-time duet partner Porter Wagoner, “I Will Always Love You” has seen the top of the charts on three different occasions: once upon its original release in 1974, in 1982 with the re-recorded version from the 1982 film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and in 1992 as Whitney Houston’s iconic version from The Bodyguard spent 14 weeks atop the pop charts. Parton additionally teamed up with Vince Gill in 1995 for a special version of the track, which won Vocal Event of the Year at the CMAs.
Lydia Farthing is a music journalist and Nashville native who has spent her life immersed in the music industry. With career stops at MusicRow Magazine, Provident Music Group and Aristo PR, she’s always in search of the best concerts and new music, and probably obsessing over books, plants and Taylor Swift.