When you think of Dolly Parton’s greatest hits, you think of the soft melodies in “I Will Always Love You” and the background banjos in “Jolene.” However, these cherished classics might’ve sounded quite different had Parton not pursued the country music genre.
Now, I’m not saying Dolly Parton couldn’t have been successful in another genre— I mean, she can do pretty much anything she puts her mind to. But the idea of Parton trading her country music stylings for rock-n-roll riffing seems somewhat baffling. Yet, it almost happened.
To understand how this glitch in the matrix almost came to be, you have to go back to Parton’s early days. In 1965, a 19-year-old Parton got her first record deal when she signed with Monument Records. After signing, she released a string of singles, but the only one that charted was “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.”
Dolly Parton’s Early Label Thought Her Unique Voice Was Better For Rock-N-Roll
Even though Monument knew she wanted to pursue country music, the label resisted. According to Monument, they thought her voice, with its strong vibrato, was better suited for rock.
In NPR’s “Dolly Does America” podcast, the hosts did some digging. According to hosts Jad Abumrad and Shima Oliaee, the same year Parton got her big break, another band was well on their ascent to stardom. That year, in 1967, The Beatles dropped their critically acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
“You can hear that the label is trying to shove her that direction,” Abumrad said of Parton’s early work. Abumrad and Oliaa aren’t the only ones who had a hot take on the subject.
Even Patron recognizes what the label was trying to do. “It sounded like people thought it was childish. So they thought I might have a better chance in rock ‘n’ roll,” the “9 to 5” singer added.
“I’d never had a pop hit,” Parton continues. “I had a song out called ‘Happy, Happy Birthday Baby’ that was the best thing I’d had, and it wasn’t even considered a hit at all,” she said.
While Parton may not have been a rock-n-roll icon such as the Beatles, she would become the pop-crossover success that makes her popular with every type of listener. Thanks to the 1980s, “9 to 5,” Parton would launch herself into the multi-genre success that would be the hallmark of her career.