Dolly Parton is a larger-than-life legend. Her musical talent, songwriting skill, impeccable fashion sense, and generosity have made her an icon many times over. Today, our favorite Smoky Mountain Songbird turns 77 years young. To celebrate we’re looking back at seven of the best tracks from her massive and ever-growing catalog of hits.
Joshua (1970) Dolly Parton’s First Number 1
Let’s start this list with Dolly Parton’s first solo chart-topper. Dolly released “Joshua” as the lead single from her 1971 album of the same name. The song, which tells the story of a girl who visits an ill-tempered mountain recluse, also earned Dolly a Grammy nomination for Best Country Vocal Performance – Female at the 1972 Grammy Awards. Additionally, the song landed in the top 10 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.
Coat of Many Colors (1971)
“Joshua” was Dolly Parton’s first chart-topping single and “Coat of Many Colors” was her first timeless song. The inspiration for this song hit Dolly while she was on the road with Porter Wagoner. When she couldn’t find any paper on which to write, she grabbed one of Porter’s dry-cleaning tags and jotted down the lyrics.
In “Coat of Many Colors” Dolly Parton shares her literal rags-to-riches story. While the single didn’t reach the top of the charts, the vulnerability and relatability of the song’s story and its touching message have made this one of Parton’s signature hits.
Jolene (1973) Dolly Parton’s Return to the Top of the Charts
“Jolene” was Dolly Parton’s second number-one single. As the story goes, Dolly got the inspiration for this song from two very different sources: an adorable young fan named Jolene and a bank teller that her husband had a crush on.
“There was a girl that worked at the bank when my husband and I first got married. She got a big crush on him and I think he had a crush on her. I know he was spending more time at the bank than we had money,” Dolly recalled.
After a concert one night, Dolly Parton met a young fan with red hair, fair skin, and green eyes. Parton said she was “the prettiest thing” then, she heard her name – Jolene. She told the little girl, “I’m gonna write a song about you and If you ever hear it, you’ll know it was about you.”
Decades later, the song is still a fan favorite.
I Will Always Love You (1974)
It is hard to pick a favorite Dolly Parton song. However, it’s easy to point to the biggest song in her catalog. Dolly famously wrote “I Will Always Love You” as a plea to Porter Wagoner to let her out of her contract so she could go solo. It soared to the top of the charts in 1974. Then, Whitney Houston covered it for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992. Houston’s rendition of the timeless tune sat atop the pop charts for several weeks. In the end, the song became a signature hit for both artists.
Dolly Parton believes that she wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the same day. When you’re hot, you’re hot.
9 to 5 (1980)
This was another massive hit for Dolly Parton. She wrote it for the office comedy 9 to 5 and featured it on her album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. The single topped the Billboard Country chart, the Hot 100 chart, and the Adult Contemporary chart. The film was also Dolly’s big-screen debut.
“9 to 5” also earned Dolly Parton Oscar nomination and four Grammy nominations. She took home Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance – Female for the song at the Grammy Awards. More than that, it became an anthem for office workers across the nation.
Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That? (1989)
This is one of only two songs on this list that Dolly Parton didn’t write. Bob Carlisle and Randy Thomas co-penned the song and Dolly brought it to life. She released it as the lead single from her album White Limozeen and it went on to be Parton’s 22nd chart-topping single.
Dolly Parton’s original album recording of this song features Ricky Skaggs on acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, triangle, and harmony vocals. Additionally, progressive bluegrass legend Béla Fleck plays banjo on the recording.
Silver Threads and Golden Needles with Loretta Lynn & Tammy Wynette (1993)
“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” is the other song on this list that Dolly Parton didn’t write. Furthermore, it is the only one featured here that didn’t at least crack the top 10. Dick Reynolds and Jack Rhodes co-penned the song and several other artists recorded it. Dolly, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette’s rendition peaked at number 68 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart when they released it as a single from the collaborative album Honky Tonk Angels.
It wasn’t a huge hit by any means, but hearing Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy together makes this one of the best in Parton’s massive catalog.