Raised in a one-room cabin in Sevier County, Tennessee, Dolly Parton soon outgrew her modest roots and was performing at the Grand Ole Opry as a teen. Now in her 70s, she has become country music – and American – royalty, owning a feather-light voice, sharp wit, and knack for melody. No wonder it was announced this week that Parton would receive two Guinness World Records, one for most decades with a Top 20 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart (six) and another for most hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart by a female artist (a whopping 73). Congrats, Dolly. On the occasion of her 72nd birthday, we look at five reasons we love her.
In this plea to a romantic rival to not break up a relationship, Parton conveys a host of emotions. Jealously takes center stage, but Parton also laces the bittersweet tale with heartache, as the bulk of the verses focus on the narrator's insecurity. "Your beauty is beyond compare," Parton sings, before rattling off the other woman's traits as if stats on a baseball card. In turn, "Jolene" becomes less about another woman intruding on a relationship and shifts the focus to illustrate how the singer is losing her own grip on the romance. Parton's verses – and her approach to the lyrics – grow more desperate as the song unfolds. Musically, the track bears out such panic, as a repetitive thumb-picked guitar lends a claustrophobic tone.
"9 to 5"
This irresistibly catchy ditty, featured in the film of the same name, somehow manages to become more relevant with age. Dating to 1980, and owning some production effects of the era – namely a high-energy piano fit for a Jazzercise workout – Parton's ode to the working woman zeroes in on the frustrations of having to toil for rent money in a man's world. Plenty of cynicism fills Parton's lyrics, which touch on the lack of respect, as well as a wage gap, faced by women in the workplace. They're the same issues prevalent in 2018. "It's a rich man's game no matter what they call it, "Parton sings, noticeably keeping her anger in check, "and you spend your life puttin' money in his wallet." This isn't just as a rant, however, as the chorus of backing vocalists and a triumphant horn section make clear. The latter ingredients, in fact, turn this into a cry of solidarity.
"I Will Always Love You"
Another cut from 1974's Jolene album, and today most commonly associated with Whitney Houston, who gave it an extravagant reading for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Parton's original may appear subtle by comparison; she doesn't reach for such vocal heights as Houston. Yet the track highlights what a marvelous singer Parton can be. Her graceful, understated way with the words plays up her resolve rather than her heartbreak. It's a tearjerker nonetheless: Parton documents a breakup occurring out of necessity rather than any real desire, but lets her gloriously light soprano extend the syllables without wavering. It's the vocal equivalent of someone not wanting to let go, but not give in to her emotions, either.
A more recent song, this 2008 number flirts with the bluegrass stylings Parton favors of late. It also toys with all of the contradictions Parton has embraced with throughout her career. The silly and potentially superficial title serves as a warning: Don't judge this book by its cover. In fact, Parton references such a cliché in the lyrics, which unfold as a gloriously proud justification for how Parton has lived her life. Her often over-the-top get-ups and exaggerated makeup marked a left-turn from her down-home roots. No doubt some observers made the mistake of not taking the glitter-and-sparkle-accented Parton seriously. "Read into it what you will, but see me as I am," Parton sings, her voice showing a slightly rougher, lived-in quality. "The way I look is just a country girl's idea of glam." The message is important. While Parton notes she's had her feelings hurt by those who dismissed her as a "backwoods Barbie," she's always been proud to be herself.
Forget the EGOT – the acronym for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award – and the world records. Parton has all of that beat. After all, who needs a bunch of trophies when you own your very own theme park? Parton in the mid-80s purchased an interest in a small Tennessee amusement park called Silver Dollar City, which was soon rebranded Dollywood and over the years added numerous attractions dedicated to the artist. Fans can get a glimpse of life on a tour bus, or see some of Parton's accolades and outfits. But most come for the trills, including multiple roller coasters and a few Disney-inspired family rides. The seasonal park also hosts numerous shows, including sometimes those performed by Parton herself. So while Disney and Universal celebrate film franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, we can think of no character better than Dolly Parton.
Photo credit: Dolly Records