Dolly Parton: My Top 5

For my celebration of Women’s History Month, I have neglected to write about a legendary country artist. To be honest, it is hard to narrow down the Queens of Country music. There are so many, from Patsy and Loretta to Reba and Tammy.

I’ve touched on many of them throughout the tenure of my blog. I have always wanted to write about Patsy Cline, but I’m still searching for words. So I decided to ask my mom, who knows my music taste better than anyone, on who I should write about next. She promptly reminded me that I had not written over one of the most influential female vocalists that does it all, from writing and producing to singing and performing. For my 5th installment, I bring you my top 5 favorite Dolly Parton songs.

I have been a Dolly Parton fan since the seventh grade. It’s odd that I remember this exact time, but I remember I first became interested in her when I saw her on the Conon O’Brien show. She was promoting her latest album, Little Sparrow. Like so many artists with me, it was all down hill from there. I haven’t stopped listening to her music since and I always check the record racks for more of her vinyl.

1. “A Tender Lie”

This song was originally sung by Restless Heart and was their last number one on the country charts. Parton gives it a tinge of classic country and a full bluegrass makeover. Her voice is so fragile on this song, but we all know the strength she possesses. This song was a perfect choice for her Little Sparrow album and Sugar Hill trilogy.

2. “Here You Come Again”

I love so many aspects of this song, from the opening piano riff to Parton’s sassy and sarcastic vocals. Every time I think somebody is gone and they return, my mind always sings this song. This is classic Dolly at her 70’s best.

3. “Joshua”

Parton has some of the best story telling skills of any musician. She encompasses every theme of country music. She often does this through creative stories, not personal accounts. This is part of her legacy. “Joshua” came out in 1970 and was Parton’s first number one hit.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”

I discovered this song a few years ago when I lived in Oklahoma. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was feeling really down about my family situation. I grew up in a tight-knit family that just seemed to fall apart for selfish reasons and holidays always brought that to mind. This song was a comfort for me and for a bright future ahead.

5. “He’s Alive”

Throughout my faith journey, I have found many of Parton’s songs to be inspiring (“Raven Dove,” “Hello God”). I adore how she stands up for her faith unabashedly without the judgment of others. She shows the love of Jesus through her spiritual compositions, performances, and actions. The video above is one we all know. It is her legendary performance of “He’s Alive” from the 1989 CMA awards. I get chills every time I hear this song and see this performance.

These are my top five favorite Dolly Parton songs at the moment. It’s safe to note that this is a fluctuating list and it is not comprehensive. I would need a list of 20 songs or more to truly list all my favorite Parton songs and then I’d still miss many!

Dolly Parton is one of country music and America’s greatest treasures. I have yet to see her in concert, but I will make it soon. The fact that she is still creating new music and states that she has 100’s of songs she hasn’t recorded blows me away. She can’t stop making albums; we must not let her!! I will gladly sit and wait for every last note.

 

Dolly Parton, “New Harvest…First Gathering:” Live Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet holiday for me. At one time I had a tight-knit family that willfully and joyously spent the day together. Unfortunately, that family has dispersed and disappeared. Cousins start having their own kids, grandparents start going downhill, and bonds break. Sadly nobody has acknowledged what has been left behind.

I have come to a realization in my life that Thanksgiving is more than just turkey, stuffing, and Grandma’s peach cobbler. Instead I am chosing this time to focus on the life I live. It’s easy to ignore the good things in life, things we should thank God for everyday.

600x600srThe other night I came home and was extremely angry and upset. It’s never easy fighting with someone you are close with. So I did what I always do, I threw on a record. I’m not sure what prompted my choice, but I decided to give Dolly Parton’s 1977 album, New Harvest-First Gathering a spin.

The album opens with “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” This was the only single from this album and it climbed its way to eleven on the Hot Country Charts. The message of this song immediately impacted my emotions. Parton sings, “Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning. I can see the light of a brand new day….It’s gonna be ok.”

The lyrics resonated with my exact situation and how I was feeling. Parton showed me that there was still tomorrow and she assured me through her brisk and sweet, yet potent voice, that it was all going to be ok, even if I could not see it now. With its gospel infringed instrumentation and backing vocals, this song is nothing but inspiring.

Following this hit comes “Applejack.” A classic Parton story tune where she tells stories of a man who was once called Applejack. He also happened to make the best applejack in town, but he could play the banjo too. We all know Parton can’t give good strumming of a banjo. The song ends with her remembrance of good ol’Applejack and how she is thankful for the lessons she learned on his porch. I cannot count the number of people who fit this exact impact Parton speaks of in my life.

Dolly-Parton-1970s-4Parton then gives Motown a twist with Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl.” She changes the
lyrics to “my love” while giving this song a complete new image. She sings this song almost as a whisper which chimes of her own story and romance. Parton’s husband is much more reclusive then Parton, and there is barely ever a sighting of him. She has a quiet, but strong love, and she doesn’t need to scream that into the world to validate what she has. She was simply contemplating her thanks.

She ends side A with a ballad she wrote both the music and words to, “You Are.” She expressed her love for her husband by stated that he is her inspiration, what makes her happy, and everything she would ever want. If you take this song and mix it with “My Love,” I am convinced that if clouds could sing this is what they would sound like. Her voice is heavenly.

She opens side B with “How Does it Feel.” I was expecting a heart wrenching break up Parton song that she can so generously write, but instead she simply had one question. How does it feel knowing that there’s someone who loves you? It made me think and identify those I am thankful for in my life.

This song is followed by “Where Beauty Lies in Memory.” The song tells the story of a woman that remembers her life as it once was in which Parton concludes “When beauty lives in memory, it lives forevermore.” That’s where my Thanksgiving is. My memories will always live in my mind. I have just not decided exactly what to do with them yet.

Parton then turns “(Your Love Is Taking Me Higher) Higher and Higher,” a number one for Jackie Wilson in 1967, into a gospel medley that you can see any choir swaying to. A good song never dies and ten years later when this album was made, it was resurrected into a new being. This sentiment ties right into Parton’s closing song “There.”

b7569341a49066f8b4179e8af8f97b17“There” is a song of hope that ensures us of a clear blue morning. She sings of what is to become when push comes to shove, when weapons are set down, and peace is resonated among God’s people. She wants to be taken where “lambs lie with lions,” “the meadows grow greener,” and “where there is complete love.” She incases this in a powerful composition that will leave you in goosebumps. The song’s beginnings are chilling, but you can’t utter any other word but Hallelujah when it ends.

She gives the message everybody wants to hear and be a part of, an eternity of love. There is no damnation in her voice; she is simply reminding everybody of God’s promise of eternal life and love.

So in the end there is no need for Thanksgiving, or this time of year, to be bittersweet for me. I am thankful for the memories I have, the people who have impacted my life, and a God that promises me eternal love. I will eventually live a life of Thanksgiving with Him, but for now I must make the best of it on this earth.

It amazes me that Parton nearly wrote the lyrics and music to every song on this album. This record is a testament of her love for family, friends, and Savior. For me it was not just a collection of tunes, it was a reminder.

A reminder of blessings and a God of love that has a place for me. I will see the light of a clear blue morning. I will remember all the blessings in my life and give thanks for what was then and now. I will be taken there.

This album also reminded me that everybody needs to listen to a Dolly Parton album every now and then. I highly suggest it. It’s rejuvenating. As I approach this Thanksgiving, I plan to live it, and I am prepared for a new harvest and who knows what its first gathering will provide.

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Thanks Dolly.