Home Music Music Lists

The 50 Best Dolly Parton Songs

The finest moments from an American icon

Dolly Parton


Dolly Parton wrote her first composition more than 70 years ago when she was around six years old, making up the simple story of “Little Tiny Tasseltop,” based on a doll fashioned out of a corncob by her mother. In the ensuing years, the hundreds of songs Parton has penned have covered a variety of subjects, from her childhood in east Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains to intense personal heartbreak, to empowering, inspirational anthems that have accompanied her rise to country music legend and global stardom.

Equally varied have been the styles and genres she has explored or touched on along the way (from pop to hard-rock to disco to bluegrass), influencing generations of artists and reframing conversations about essential topics like marriage, sex, faith, and work (even rewriting her own story to fit the times, like the way she flipped the refrain of “Jolene” into “Vaccine, vaccine…” when she appeared in a video in early 2020 getting her first shot). “I love to sit around for hours, alone with a good cup of coffee, and just do my thing,” she says in the introduction to her book, Songteller, published by Chronicle Books in 2020 and written with respected Nashville music journalist and historian Robert K. Oermann. It’s a beautifully illustrated – yet nowhere near comprehensive – compilation of the lyrics to 175 of Parton’s songs, which now number more than 3,000, according to her own estimation.

A 2022 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the 77-year-old will be honored this month with the first-of-its-kind series of LP releases from Vinyl Me, Please. The company, which has been reissuing a wide range of classic music on vinyl since 2013, will launch the Dolly-centric Vinyl Me, Parton; a year-long subscription will include delivery of 12 indispensable Dolly albums, from her debut to more recent releases. It’s just one example of how widely and deeply her career and legacy are celebrated today.

The list below merely touches on the incredible body of work which Dolly Parton has created. Each song included here (like the hundreds that are not) has something special about it, either because it touches on a unique part of Parton’s story, or simply because of the place it holds in the hearts of fans throughout the world.

Hear this playlist on Spotify.

From Rolling Stone US


‘Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That’

Producer-musician Ricky Skaggs helped rejuvenate Dolly’s career with the thrilling, inspired White Limozeen LP in 1989, from which this chart-topper is taken. Even though she didn’t write it, Parton infused the honky-tonk stomper with her trademark sass, rendering it as irresistible as the “big ideas and little behind” of song’s male subject.


‘Do I Ever Cross Your Mind’

A perennial favorite of her live shows, when she and her band sing a portion as if they’ve ingested heavy doses of helium, this was first recorded by Dolly with Chet Atkins, his galloping guitar accompanying her infectious laughter. A gospel-infused 1982 solo rendition was followed by 1994’s Trio recording.


‘All I Can Do’

One of Parton’s most ebullient and irresistible love songs, this title cut from her Grammy-nominated album would also be covered at the time by singer-actress Mary Kay Place, famed for her portrayal of perpetually cheerful country singer Loretta Haggers on the 1970s soap opera spoof, Mary Hartman.


‘Two Doors Down’

This song was inspired by the real life experience of sitting alone in her room at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn, and trying to escape the temptation of the fried clams in the hotel restaurant, where she could hear her band enjoying themselves. She came up with a song about a woman who hears a party down the hall, decides to check it out, and comes back home with a new man.


‘Just Because I’m A Woman’

On her 1967 debut, Dolly declared herself nobody’s fool with Curly Putman’s playful “Dumb Blonde.” Here, she’s more somber, coming clean about her own shortcomings while castigating sexist double standards, prefacing her confessions with a blistering admonition: “Let me tell you this so we’ll both know where we stand.” Ouch.


‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’

The front porch of the humble dwelling pictured on the cover of her now-50-year-old LP is where young Dolly did so much singing, picking, and “makin’ future plans.” This tranquil title cut captures the dreamier side of the always imaginative entertainer, for whom music, family and memories continue to resonate.


‘Little Sparrow’

Adapting a traditional melody and marrying it to her lyrics that are at first fragile and broken but ultimately express strength and resolve, this title track from the second LP in her bluegrass trilogy is yet another of Parton’s finest feminist anthems. The harmony-laced a cappella intro is utterly chilling.


‘9 To 5’

The most transformative of all Parton’s songs, the Oscar-nominated “9 to 5” accompanied the singer’s debut film role. In the 43 years since, versions of the Grammy-winning tune have anchored a Broadway musical and a 2022 documentary, Still Working 9 to 5. Somehow it continues to be a trenchant feminist statement on labor equity in 2023.


‘Islands In the Stream,’ with Kenny Rogers

Two shining solo artists at peak brilliance, the pairing of Parton and Rogers resulted in a blinding supernova, and simply one of the most memorable pop-country duets of all time. Songwriters Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb crafted a timeless tune which launched a global phenomenon, cementing a lifelong Kenny/Dolly bond. While the wedding and karaoke concession on the song would be enough to keep the Gibb brothers stocked in fine-tooth combs, the Dolly/Kenny version, which topped the country and pop charts simultaneously, has sold in excess of two million copies in the U.S. alone.


‘Here You Come Again’

Once she’d achieved solo success, Dolly eyed crossover stardom. On January 19, 1977, her 31st birthday, she started on that path by charming and disarming Tonight Show host Johnny Carson in her debut appearance. Later that year, this Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil gem, first recorded by B.J. Thomas, offered something a bit different for longtime fans, and a chance for those unfamiliar (or preoccupied with her looks) to be bowled over by her formidable musical talent. The Grammy-winning smash (Number Three pop, Number One country) led off her first million-selling album, launching the future global icon into the entertainment stratosphere.


‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’

Referring to it as “my song of deliverance,” Parton has recalled walking out of former singing partner Porter Wagoner’s office and driving home in a rainstorm. As the clouds parted, giving way to sunlight, the song was born, as was a new-era Dolly — luminous, independent, and on the verge of superstardom. By the time she reworked the lyrics for the soundtrack of her 1992 film, Straight Talk, Parton was one of the world’s most recognizable personalities, an empowered woman who had nothing to prove, yet still had plenty of dreams to bring to fruition.


‘I Will Always Love You’

Although oddly popular at weddings these days (even if “bittersweet memories” should be an obvious tip-off that it might be otherwise), decades ago this unfeigned expression of gratitude was simply a plea for independence directed at duet partner Porter Wagoner. The genuinely moving ballad finally persuaded Wagoner to grant Parton the freedom to pursue her solo career. In 1992, 10 years after Dolly had re-recorded it to accompany her starring role in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Whitney Houston’s slow-building, jaw-dropping take on The Bodyguard soundtrack magnified its iconic status.


‘Coat of Many Colors’

Between this song, a made-for-TV film, a childrens’ book and memorable covers of the original, a patchwork coat made by Parton’s mother inadvertently launched a multimedia enterprise. However, nothing tops witnessing Parton live on stage, performing this genuinely heart-stirring tale, recalling the experience of that crestfallen little girl as if the wounds from her classmates’ taunts are still fresh. Had it been the only song she’d ever written, the expression of overwhelming pride and crushing anguish (penned on the back of a dry-cleaning receipt for one of Porter Wagoner’s suits) would have secured her indelible legacy.



Parton’s live renditions of this oft-covered – 400-plus and counting – crowd-pleaser have usually been accompanied by recollections of the statuesque, redheaded bank teller who shamelessly flirted with her husband. Marking her first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, “Jolene” provided a showcase for the singer-songwriter at her most vulnerable, which made it all the more relatable. “Whether it’s in another language, or [performed by] a garage band, everybody seems to love that song,” she notes. This May, Dolly and Carl Dean celebrate their 57th anniversary, and 50 years after its release, “Jolene” remains a dearly beloved classic.