Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy 70th, Dolly Parton: 7 of my favorite songs by the birthday girl

If David Bowie was my best interview ever, Dolly Parton may have been my most embarrassing. It happened years ago, and it was over the phone. To break the ice, I pulled an old trick that always seemed to fly: I let her know that I was more than just another journalist. My appreciation of her work went beyond the obvious hits.

I told her three of my favorite Dolly Parton songs, ones that would be relatively obscure to all but true country-music fans, expecting a gold star. Her response: "Oh, you just happened to pick three that I didn't write!"

Oops!

She was just joking, of course, but as a singer-songwriter, she had to be a little slighted by my oversight. Well, I figured that she'd made enough money for writing "I Will Always Love You" (thank you, Whitney). Did it matter that neither that nor "9 to 5" nor "Jolene" (the latter two also self-penned) didn't get an honorable mention during our interview?

Here are the three that did and four more: my seven favorite Dolly Parton singles in honor of her 70th birthday today (January 19), one for each decade.

"Heartbreaker" (written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Wolfert) The beginning of my Dolly Parton appreciation era (1978 to 1982), this marked the first time I heard a Parton song on the radio and knew exactly who was singing it.


"Starting Over Again" (written by Donna Summer and Bruce Sudano) I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this 1980 country No. 1 was recorded in December of 1979, at the end of the year of Summer's disco peak. It's the first of the three songs that made Parton mock mad at me.


"Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" (written by Patricia Rose Sebert and Hugh Moffatt) Sebert is also known as the mother of pop singer Ke$ha. Does Sebert's little girl still use the $? This is the second of the songs I name-dropped during my Parton interview.


"But You Know I Love You" (written by Mike Settle) Fun fact: This was originally a Top 20 pop single by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Rogers, of course, would later duet with Parton on one of her biggest hits, "Islands in the Stream." This was the final song I mentioned to her during our interview.


"The House of the Rising Sun" (traditional) I know this is probably sacrilege, but I much prefer Parton's overhaul of the roots classic to the version that The Animals took to No. 1 in 1964. I'm clearly in the minority: It was one of Parton's few heyday singles that didn't make the country Top 10, conking out at No. 14.


"Single Women" (written by Michael O'Donoghue) I remember being scandalized by the line "Oh, what's the matter, are you gay?" as it was climbing to No. 8 on Billboard's country singles chart. Years later, a Katy Perry lookalike in Bangkok would ask me pretty much the same thing.


"Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" (written by Dolly Parton) Probably my all-time favorite Parton song, written by the woman herself. It's a precursor to The Grass Is Blue, her 1999 bluegrass album and her creative zenith. I don't know why I didn't mention it during our interview. Sorry, Dolly...and happy birthday!


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