A guide to Dolly Parton in 16 Essential Songs

Known for her incredible country lilt, and her generous charity work, Dolly Parton’s heart is as big as her collection of enduring hits.

Dolly Parton is one of the most iconic entertainers of our time. The country music legend has charted 25 Number One songs and has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

Pop country classics Jolene, I Will Always Love You, 9 to 5 and Here You Come Again are among the biggest hits in her vast repertoire, but there is a lot more to Dolly than just the hits.  

‘Dolly Parton: ‘The Very Best of Dolly Parton’
Credit: Kompass

Parton is a multi-instrument, who has a large collection of instruments under her belt, from the dulcimer, autoharp, banjo, guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, piano, recorder, and saxophone, and has humbly said that when it comes to her multi-instrumental abilities, “I play some of everything. I ain’t that good at none of it, but I try to sell it. I really try to lay into it.”

The singer also famously used her fingernails as an instrument on her 1980 song 9 to 5, from which she composed the beat by tapping her nails together while backstage on the film set.

Not one to stay idle, she tirelessly funds a literacy program for children, which ensures that every child under 5 has access to free books, she funds higher education for her staff at Dollywood, and she has also established a buddy program to keep teens in schools. If her inexhaustible education charities don’t keep her busy enough, she also champions  HIV/AIDs initiatives, disaster relief, and animal rights.

We could go on for days about our all-time favourite rhinestone cowgirl, but let’s take a look at ‘Dolly Parton: ‘The Very Best of Dolly Parton’ that epitomizes the country songbird’s musical brilliance.



Dolly’s most famous song, tells the tale of a woman confronting a beautiful woman, Jolene, who she believes is trying to steal away her man. According to Dolly, the song was inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean at their local branch around the time they were newly married. She has also said that Jolene’s name and appearance are based on a young fan who came on stage for her autograph.

The song was ranked No. 217 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004 and, without a doubt is her most-covered song.


9 to 5

The theme song to the 1980 feature film 9 to 5, in which she starred along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, simultaneously reached number one on the country charts and the pop charts. It also received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

I Will Always Love You

 This classic ballad was released in 1974 as a farewell to her former business partner and mentor of seven years, Porter Wagoner, following Dolly’s decision to pursue a solo career. Although Parton’s greatest commercial fortune transpired when Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack of the feature film The Bodyguard (1992).



Islands in the Stream (Feat. Kenny Rogers)

Dolly’s duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream” (written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb), spent two weeks at number one in 1983. The video clip shows Dolly at her cheekiest and sweetest. 

Here You Come Again

This was the title track from Dolly’s 1977 album and was her first crossover pop hit in the US. During this period, her visibility continued to increase, with multiple television appearances, in particular, a highly publicized candid interview on a Barbara Walters Special in 1977 (timed to coincide with Here You Come Again’s release). Watch the interview here.


Coat of Many Colors

Released in 1971 from the album of the same name, Dolly has said in the past that this is the favourite song she has written. The title refers to how Dolly’s mother stitched together a coat for her daughter out of rags. As she sewed, she spoke of the biblical story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colours. However, when she got to school, the other students laughed at her. Dolly wrote the song in 1969, while traveling with former performing partner Porter Wagoner on a tour bus.


My Tennessee Mountain Home

Using imagery from her rural childhood in Tennessee  (nature, holding hands on a porch swing, and walking home from church), the song served as the centerpiece of her 1973 concept album My Tennessee Mountain Home.


Love Is Like a Butterfly

The title track from her 1974 album, this was her fourth number one single on the US country charts. Dolly later used the song as the opening theme for her 1976 TV show Dolly!, and also uses a butterfly as the ‘W’ in the trade dress for her Dollywood theme park.

The Bargain Store

This was the title track for her 1975 album and gave her another number-one solo single. The song uses second-hand items at a discount shop as a metaphor for a woman emotionally damaged by a difficult relationship. The song was dropped from some country stations at the time when programmers mistook the line “you can easily afford the price” as a reference to prostitution.


Silver Threads and Goldens Needles (Feat. Tammy Wynette & Loretta Lynn)

n 1993, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette teamed up to record ‘Honky Tonk Angels’, produced by Owen Bradley and featured one charting single, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”, which peaked at #68 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

To Know Him Is to Love Him (Feat. Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris)

“To Know Him Is To Love Him” from the supergroup’s first album “Trio”. “To Know Him Is To Love Him” was written by Phil Spector and features the legendary David Lindley on mandolin.


Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That

Parton’s 18th number one on the country chart. The single went to number one for one week and spent a total of 20 weeks on the country charts. Parton performed the song (along with the title track to the album) when she hosted Saturday Night Live on April 15, 1989.

Tennessee Homesick Blues

“Tennessee Homesick Blues” was featured in the soundtrack of the 1984 movie Rhinestone. It earned Parton her 10th overall nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.


Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You

Dolly covered this Joe Sun ballad, which had been a hot two years earlier. The song is about someone telling their lover not to feel threatened by past loves, as these “old flames” are in the past and disappear from memory.


Released in 1970, this was Dolly’s first taste of solo success on the US country charts, reaching number one. The song is about a young girl who dares to visit the home of a local recluse, who has a reputation for being mean and hostile to others.


Real Love, duet Kenny Rogers

Released in April 1985, Real Love became the second single to top the country charts as a duet act.

‘Dolly Parton: ‘The Very Best of Dolly Parton’ is available now as part of the ‘Icons & Superstars’. Check out The Very Best of Dolly here.