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Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton Reflects On The Greatest Hits of her Career

Get an inside look at the musician, actress and songwriter’s new book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

“Jolene“ (1973)

“Jolene” was a No. 1 country smash and was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1974 and 1975. Dolly finally won a Grammy for the song in 2017 via a collaboration with the a cappella pop group Pentatonix. Her original recording is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

“‘Jolene’ is my most recorded song. Worldwide, through the years, they say it has been recorded four-hundred-and-some times. Whether it’s in another language or whether it’s a garage band, everybody seems to love that song. I guess every band can sing it, and every woman can relate to it. I never get tired of singing that song. It’s possible that ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ were written on the same day. When we were going through all my old tapes to put my songs on hard drives, we found that ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’ were on the same cassette tape, back-to-back. I don’t know; I might have written “Jolene” later that night. When you write so much, you lose track of time, and I wrote so much back then.”

Dolly Parton

“Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics”

“I Will Always Love You” (1974)

Parton re-recorded “I Will Always Love You” for the soundtrack of her 1982 movie with Burt Reynolds, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Ten years later, Kevin Costner suggested it to Whitney Houston for the soundtrack of their movie, The Bodyguard. It became one of the biggest pop hits in history and has since been recorded by dozens of other greats. Dolly originally wrote it about trying to end her professional partnership with collaborator Porter Wagoner after more than seven years together.

“I had always dreamed of being my own star, having my own band, and doing my own thing. He’d say, ‘You can’t go. You can’t do that to me, because of all I’ve done for you.’ That whole kind of thing. Or he would try to win the argument by being mean and hateful. Or by trying to pull a guilt trip on me. I thought, ‘Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you write it in a song?’ So I went home and wrote this song about bittersweet memories. I said, ‘If I should stay, I would only be in your way.’ But I should have said, ‘You’d only be in my way.’ Ha-ha. Really, we were in each other’s way. He was trying to control something that’s not controllable, and that was making him miserable and me miserable. The song came straight from the bottom of my heart….I was so emotional I was crying when I was writing it.

“Elvis loved the song and wanted to record it. But his manager demanded half of my publishing rights. It broke my heart, but I couldn’t give up my copyright. I cried my eyes out, because I could just hear Elvis singing it. But sometimes you just have to stand your ground. Priscilla [Presley] told me years later that it was the song he sang to her when they were leaving the divorce courtroom. So that touched me even more.

“Years later, Kevin Costner’s office contacted our office and said, ‘Can we get a copy of Dolly’s song “I Will Always Love You”?’ He said that [producer] David Foster was going to be doing the music for this movie [The Bodyguard]. That sounded good to me, because I had worked with David. But that was the last I’d heard of it. Then one day I was driving my Cadillac back home to Brentwood from my office. I had the radio on, and all of a sudden I heard this spoken voice say, ‘If I should stay…’ It caught my ear, but I didn’t recognize it. Then, when it went into the music, I thought I was going to wreck the car. I have never had such an overwhelming feeling. I had to pull off to the side of the road, because it just got bigger and bigger and better and better. I have never experienced a greater feeling in my life than hearing Whitney Houston sing that song for the first time. I had already taken it to No. 1 twice by then. But she took that little simple heartbroken song of mine and took it worldwide. For what she did with that, I will always love you, Whitney Houston. Now the song is going to live forever. I thank Porter for that song. I think of him every time I sing it. If it hadn’t been for him, I’d never have written that song.”

Dolly Parton

“Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics”

“9 to 5” (1980)

“The thing I hate about the movies is all the waiting-around time. I realized early on that I had to do something besides just sitting there or going to the crafts [food] table. I did that and gained weight. Jane [Fonda] gave me good advice, so I said to myself, ‘Dolly, you’ve got to stop eating. They do scenes out of sequence, and you can’t go in the door slim and come out fat. You’ve got to watch what you’re doing.’ So I spent my time watching everything, just soaking everything up like a sponge. I wrote ‘9 to 5’ in my head that way. I’d go back to my hotel at night and put down what I had written that day, playing my guitar and getting it on tape. Over a long period of time, I wrote the song on my nails. I’m famous for that now. Every time I go on TV, I have to ‘play’ my nails like a typewriter.”