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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


‘Stairway to Heaven’

As Parton’s 1975 hit “We Used To” and the airy “There” from 1977 attest, she’s a longtime Led Zeppelin fan. Here, she transforms her fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Famers’ enigmatic classic into a bluegrass-gospel tour-de-force, with heavenly choir and some ad-libbed revisions to the Jimmy Page-Robert Plant lyrics.


‘We Used To’

Dropping the needle on her 1975 Dolly LP, surprised rock fans (among them Parton’s husband) heard a brief “Stairway to Heaven” homage in the acoustic guitar riff on the album’s opening track. Zeppelin tribute aside, “We Used To” is one of Parton’s most sincere heartbreak songs, sparing not one shred of gut-wrenching emotion.


‘Tennessee Homesick Blues’

“I guess the public didn’t want to see Sylvester Stallone do comedy – or see me do Sylvester Stallone,” Parton said of Rhinestone in her 1994 autobiography. The unmistakable jewel in that otherwise ridiculous, deeply flawed film pairing her with the action star was this jubilant celebration of Dolly’s Appalachian roots.


‘It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright’

While Parton scaled the pop chart with “Two Doors Down,” country stations played this, the single’s decidedly forthright B-side. With unambiguous come-on lines (“Can I use you for a while”) that set the scene for a close, no-strings encounter, Parton weaves a tale that’s as honest as it is heartbreaking.


‘Love Is Like a Butterfly’

The opening theme for both her syndicated 1970s series and a classic British sitcom, this delicately conveys with simple yet poetic lyrics the beauty of a love that’s strong, fragile and “soft and gentle as a sigh.” Parton would go on to incorporate the color-splashed butterfly into her Dollywood logo.


‘Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)’

Nine years before her daughter Kesha was born, Nashville songwriter Pebe Sebert had a Top 20 hit for newcomer Joe Sun with this honky-tonk tune she co-wrote with then-husband Hugh Moffat. Dolly’s slowed version burns even brighter, as she basks in the warm glow of romantic reassurance.


‘Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark,’ with Porter Wagoner

Of the dozens of duets Dolly and her mentor/early duet partner Porter Wagoner released, this was a fan favorite. Inspired in part by Dolly’s own nyctophobia, and featuring a somber recitation from Porter, it’s a testament to Parton’s songwriting artistry that a potentially maudlin weeper is instead a deeply personal meditation on love and loss.


‘Backwoods Barbie’

Glamour has always been important to Parton, but her image has often subjected her to ridicule, which intensified as her star ascended. While it seems unthinkable that there’s anyone who can’t see the real Dolly behind the strikingly beautiful exterior, this upbeat yet poignant steel-guitar-drenched tune suggests that struggle continues.


‘Your Ole Handy Man’

“Dumb Blonde,” her very first hit from her Hello, I’m Dolly album, was a clever Curly Putman tune. But with her own songs from that debut LP, including this growling, take-no-BS blow for feminism, as well as another highlight, “Something Fishy,” Parton announced her arrival as one exceptionally talented singer-songwriter.


‘Shattered Image’

Below the rippling surface of this deceptively lighthearted track (first recorded for the 1976 album All I Can Do) lies a more complicated theme: Parton’s love/hate relationship with the tabloids. Outrageous stories about herself may have thickened her skin, but she knows others in her orbit don’t necessarily have that luxury.


‘Unlikely Angel’

The theme song from Paton’s charming 1996 made-for-TV Christmas film of the same name, this gorgeous ballad celebrated love, healing and redemption. It wasn’t released commercially when the movie came out, but nearly two decades later it was reborn on Blue Smoke, an album which earned heavenly sales figures worldwide.



On the verge of pop stardom, Dolly proved (as if she had to) that she was not abandoning her country storytelling roots. Among those joining her dad as backing vocalists on this delightful sing-along: Hall of Fame legends Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb and Kitty Wells.


‘Appalachian Memories’

When Southerners headed north to seek employment, Parton’s father was among them. His tenure there would be brief. This beautiful ballad, also known as “Smoky Mountain Memories,” and enhanced in its original version by an instrumental intro featuring the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger,” would endure via Parton’s live performances.


‘Yellow Roses’

After stalling with her short-lived network variety series, Parton returned to the fast lane with the turbo-charged White Limozeen. While many of its best cuts were uptempo bluegrass-injected tunes, this tearful ballad, which topped the country charts, marked a return to form for Parton as both singer and songwriter.


‘The Seeker’

Parton’s most successful gospel hit, this No. 2 country single nevertheless makes no overt reference to a specific deity. Instead, Parton unconsciously penned a rousing, ecumenical anthem for folks of any – or no – particular faith. With unyielding belief and pure humility, she simply confesses her own need for spiritual refreshment.


‘The Bridge’

With only her second solo effort, Just Because I’m a Woman, Parton established herself as a songwriting force of nature. In addition to the LP’s now-iconic title track, the highlight is this mournful meditation on a soured love affair and an unborn child, capped off by a cleverly ambiguous, gasp-inducing finale.


‘More Where That Came From’

The title could serve as a subtle dig at country radio for largely ignoring artists of a certain age, including Dolly. But the gleeful abandon of the Cajun-inspired arrangement is what set toes tapping, even if it stalled outside the Top 40. A club-ready remix fuels hope for Parton’s long-discussed gay-friendly dance album.


‘Potential New Boyfriend’

Parton’s sizable gay audience has been evident for decades, so it’s hardly surprising that in spite of not writing it, she turned this frisky pop confection into a Top 20 dance club hit. The song’s queer quotient was upped considerably in 2013 with a slick cover by drag performer William.



A plaintive pop-country ballad that served as title cut of Parton’s follow-up LP to Here You Come Again, this was yet another successful crossover hit for the now-high-profile entertainer edging nearer to superstardom. Written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Wolfert, it remains one of Parton’s most affecting vocal performances.


‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’

A New Orleans prostitute’s broken life is further anguished by heartache over the man she left back home. Perhaps the most surprising element of the LP that shares the mournful song’s title is the appearance of Parton’s famously reticent husband, Carl Dean, in the background of the cover photo.


‘To Daddy’

A feminist declaration of independence, “To Daddy” precipitated a major blow-up between Dolly and Porter, as Emmylou Harris wanted to record it but Wagoner urged Dolly to keep it for herself. The two women prevailed and Harris’ tender version became a major hit. Parton’s original would surface two decades later.


‘Don’t Make Me Have to Come Down There’

In her eighth decade as a songwriter, Parton can still be counted on to turn a familiar phrase into a patently original masterwork. With God cast as the ultimate parent issuing a stern warning, and set to a throbbing, urgent beat, it’s capped off by a gorgeously layered vocal coda.


‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’

A Top Thirty single, and the title cut from her third LP, this marked the first time on record that the songwriter addressed her hardscrabble Smoky Mountain childhood head-on. The colorful details are laced with wisdom and affection, traits deeply embedded in her Appalachian DNA.


‘Touch Your Woman’

Never one to shy away from expressions of vulnerability or the need for intimacy, Dolly lays both bare in the Grammy-nominated title track of her ninth album. As tender a plea as it is, it’s also refreshing and soulful. A contemporaneous cover from R&B songstress Margie Joseph emphasizes that point.


‘Hard Candy Christmas’

Dolly’s remake of “I Will Always Love You” was a highlight of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas musical film, but it’s her heart-rending take on this Carol Hall tune from the Broadway original that created an everlasting, bittersweet confection, as evidenced by subsequent cover versions from Reba to RuPaul.


‘Here I Am,’ with Sia

First recorded for the 1971 Coat of Many Colors album, Parton revisited this inspirational tune as a duet for the soundtrack to the Netflix film, Dumplin’. Awash in gospel-choir accompaniment, this update, which pairs her with eclectic singer-songwriter Sia, beautifully echoes and amplifies the desires and assurances of the original.


‘My Blue Tears,’ with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt

Dolly was among the first country singer’s to harmonize with herself on record, a technique that distinguishes this 1971 song. Even Goldie Hawn did a good job with this song when she tried her hand at a version of it a year later, but the 1978 recording of this azure beauty, featuring Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, sets the gold standard.


‘Evening Shade’

A group home for troubled children becomes the site of a conflagration planned and executed by the young residents as revenge for the hellish treatment they’ve suffered at the hands of matron Mrs. Bailey and her cruel staff. An early indication of Parton’s cinematic imagination and ambitions.


‘Poor Folks’ Town’

Sure, “9 to 5” and “But You Know I Love You” are indispensable hits, but this boisterous closing track from the 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs album is insanely catchy. For an exceptional LP dedicated to the concept of hard work, Dolly makes it all sound pretty darned easy.


‘Eagle When She Flies’

A favorite subject of Parton’s, the majestic eagle is contrasted with the sparrow in this glorious ballad that served as the title cut of Dolly’s 1991 LP. Written for, but unused as the theme song of the ensemble film Steel Magnolias, it remains a soaring-yet-delicate feminist anthem.


‘The Bargain Store’

“Every man I know thinks it’s dirty,” Parton says in Songteller of the lyrics to this misunderstood, under- appreciated title cut from her 15th solo LP. Rather, these are the stark, metaphorical reflections of a woman whose bruised self-esteem may exhibit some damage but whose well-worn heart is open to redemption.


‘Dagger Through the Heart’

Dolly’s bluegrass LPs from 1999 to 2002 (The Grass Is Blue, Little Sparrow, Halos & Horns) are all highly recommended, with career highlights spread evenly among them. This affecting folk ballad took on added poignancy post-9/11, and a brittle 2003 cover by Sinéad O’Connor made it all the more piercing.


‘Busy Signal’

Monument Records founder Fred Foster died in 2019 and didn’t see Dolly inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But when he signed her in 1965 and released this enticing Northern soul- and girl group-influenced single written and produced by Ray Stevens, he could likely see a pop star in the making.


‘Down From Dover’

Its title was inspired by a pass through the tiny town of Dover, Tennessee, but this unsettling story of an unwed mother, spurned both by her disapproving family and her baby’s father, looms large in Dolly’s impressive catalog. Controversial for its time, the song still packs a devastating emotional wallop.


‘Baby I’m Burnin”

Dolly’s first bona fide dance hit – she would later score with Swedish duo Galantis on the chart-topping “Faith,” and with a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” among others – this combustible floor-filler accompanied Parton’s frequent trips to Studio 54, where she hung out with the likes of Andy Warhol and Calvin Klein.


‘Wildflowers,’ with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

Trio, the long-gestating first album from Parton, Harris, and Rondstadt (now in the Grammy Hall of Fame), is an absolute stunner from start to finish, with voices that harmonize with the ease and distinction of mountain-raised siblings. Parton’s paean to wanderlust is merely one rare, colorful beauty among its pure-country garden of earthly – and otherworldly – delights.


‘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.