Dolly Parton’s musical catalog stretches over sixty years. She has released some of the biggest hits in country music. Songs like “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors”, and “I Will Always Love You” are pretty much standards at this point. However, she has a whole heap of B-sides and album cuts that have been almost completely overlooked. We’re going to dive into some of those overlooked tracks and highlight some of the best.
Mule Skinner Blues
We’re going to start the dive slowly, by just dipping our toes into the water. “Mule Skinner Blues” was actually a hit for Dolly Parton. In fact, it was her first solo hit. Porter Wagoner talked her into recording it as a gimmick and it worked out well. This song really helped to launch her solo career. It has been largely overlooked in recent years though. This underrated tune deserves another listen:
Jimmy Rodgers originally cut this song as one of his Blue Yodels. So, not only do we get to hear Dolly sing about being a mule skinner but we also get to hear her yodel. The fact that she yodels really well should come as a surprise to no one. The tune is great and doesn’t get enough love, even if it was a hit.
Cash on the Barrelhead
Back in 1999 Dolly Parton released a bluegrass album called “The Grass is Blue” this album saw her doing a handful of covers as well as some originals. This song is a Louvin Brothers cover. It sees Dolly taking on the role of a lady who is down on her luck and can’t seem to catch a break. It’s a fun tune and Parton makes it her own.
I’ll Oilwells Love You
This song comes off of Dolly Parton’s 1968 album “Just Because I’m a Woman” and sees Dolly taking on the role of a gold digger. Black gold, that is. Texas tea. She sings about marrying an oil tycoon for his money. The refrain, “I’ll oil wells love you, I’ll oil wells care, I’ll oil wells need you, I want you oil wells, dear,” is clever and funny. Above all, it’s an incredibly catchy tune that might end up in your head for days at a time.
Gypsy, Joe, and Me
This one comes from Dolly Parton’s 1969 album “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” and is the first sad song on the list. The narrative in the song follows a woman, her boyfriend Joe, and their dog Gypsy. They live a sweet hobo life, just being happy on the road together. That is until Gypsy gets hit by a car. Later, Joe dies in the narrator’s arms. It ends poorly for everyone. Listen to the song… it’s a good story, and Dolly tells it so well.
Do you remember that horrible movie “Rhinestone” that starred Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton? If you do, I’m truly sorry. One good thing to come out of the was the soundtrack, though. This may not be the best song of that album but it sure is fun. It’s all about a guy who turns into a monster when he drinks. For the most part, though, he’s a fun monster. He dances, sings, and steals the hearts of women. It’s really more of a Jekyll and Hyde situation than a Frankenstein’s monster story but it still works pretty well. Good times, great voice. What else could you ask for?
“Just Because I’m a Woman” has so many great songs on it. This one is another sad story song. It starts happily enough. A couple has their first kiss on a bridge. That place becomes their favorite spot to hang out. Things happen, and by the end of the song, the narrator is about to throw herself from that same bridge.
This song comes from Dolly Parton’s 1998 album “Hungry Again” and sees Dolly repurposing one of the most well-known melodies in western musical history. Dolly sings a song of inspiration and love over the tune of “Amazing Grace.” It’s a gorgeous song that shines a light on Dolly’s faith.
Daddy’s Moonshine Still
This one comes from Dolly’s 1971 album “Joshua” and is one of the most interesting moonshiner songs out there. Drinking, making, or bootlegging moonshine have all been the subject of countless country and bluegrass songs over the years. This song, though, focuses on the family of a moonshiner. In particular, Dolly Parton takes on the role of a bootlegger’s daughter. It’s an angry song with a great story at the center of it. Give it a listen.
The Grass is Blue
The title track of Dolly Parton’s 1999 bluegrass album is highly underrated. The best bluegrass songs are sad songs. Whether they’re about being heartbroken or hanged, a little bit of pain goes a long way in bluegrass. This song is just about as lonesome as it gets. There is no flashy flat-picking nor will you find a hot banjo break. What you will find, however, is a song about the denial of pain. “I’m perfectly fine, and I don’t miss you. The sky is green and the grass is blue.”
Dolly Parton does some killer covers. She can make just about any song her own. She proved this with the song “Shine” from her 2001 album “Little Sparrow.” The song was originally by the alternative rock band Collective Soul. If you listened to rock radio in the 90s, you probably remember the main riff from the song. Dolly and company turn this alt-rock hit into a bluegrass tune while maintaining the original vocal pattern.
This song was single and it did win a Grammy. Yet it is still highly underrated. Seriously, when is the last time someone brought this song up?
Last year, Priscilla Block had a viral hit with the song “PMS.” Dolly Parton recorded “PMS Blues” back in 1994. It just goes to show that every generation needs a song about the hardships of womanhood. The song was included on her album “Heartsongs: Live from Home.”
As you could imagine, it’s a song about the woes of PMS sang with Dolly’s wit and humor. The song kicks off with her asking why Eve couldn’t just leave that apple on the tree. The song is hilarious. This might be the most underrated Dolly Parton song in existence.