Dolly Parton's 10 best songs ever, ranked

19 January 2022, 17:18

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Dolly Parton is one of the world's most recognisable singers, beloved by millions of fans around the world.

The queen of country is back with a new Christmas album and festive Netflix film, and shows no signs of slowing down her busy schedule.

For a perfect Dolly Parton playlist, we've ranked her 10 very best songs ever:

  1. Joshua

    Dolly Parton - Joshua

    Released in 1970, this was Dolly's first taste of solo success on the US country charts, reaching number one.

    A great example of Dolly's brand of storytelling, the song is about a young girl who dares to visit the home of a local recluse, who has a reputation for being mean and hostile to others.

  2. Here You Come Again

    Dolly Parton - Here You Come Again (The 11th Annual CMA Awards)

    This was the title track from Dolly's 1977 album, and was her first crossover pop hit in the US at the time.

    It was composed by prolific songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and it was a rare time where Dolly didn't write a hit single.

    They originally composed it as a potential comeback hit for Brenda Lee, but when Lee decided against it, the song made its way to Dolly, who was looking for something to broaden her appeal. It worked!

  3. Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You

    Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You) (Single)

    This ballad was already a hit for Joe Sun in 1978, before Dolly covered it two years later.

    The song is about someone telling their lover not to feel threatened by past affairs, as these "old flames" are in the past and disappear from memory.

  4. Love is Like a Butterfly

    Dolly Parton - Love Is Like A Butterfly - Live

    The title track from her 1974 album, this was her fourth number one single in the US country charts.

    Dolly later used the song as the opening theme for her 1976 TV show Dolly!, and also uses a butterfly as the 'W' in the trade dress for her Dollywood theme park.

  5. The Bargain Store

    The Bargain Store

    This was the title track for her 1975 album, and gave her yet another US country number one solo single.

    The song uses second-hand items at a discount shop as a metaphor for a woman emotionally damaged by a uncaring relationship.

    However, the song was dropped from some country stations at the time, when programmers mistook the line "you can easily afford the price" as a reference to prostitution.

  6. Coat of Many Colours

    Dolly Parton - Coat of many colors

    Released in 1971 from the album of the same name, Dolly has said in the past that this is the favourite song she has written.

    The song looks back at how Dolly's mother stitched together a coat for her daughter out of rags. As she sewed, she spoke of the biblical story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colours. However, when she got to school, her peers laughed at her for wearing such a coat.

    Dolly wrote the song in 1969, while traveling with former performing partner Porter Wagoner on a tour bus.

  7. I Will Always Love You

    Dolly Parton - I Will Always Love You - 1974

    This classic ballad was released in 1974 as a farewell to her former partner and mentor of seven years, Porter Wagoner, following Dolly's decision to pursue a solo career.

    Read more: The Story of... 'I Will Always Love You'

    After turning down Elvis Presley's request for a cover version after he and his manager wanted to own all rights to the song, it was later famously covered by Whitney Houston to huge success in 1992 for the Bodyguard soundtrack. Good decision, Dolly!

  8. 9 to 5

    Dolly Parton - 9 To 5 (Official Video)

    This was recorded as the main theme to the hilarious 1980 comedy movie of the same name starring Dolly, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

    It was a massive crossover pop hit at the time, and decades later helped form the basis for the hit stage musical version.

    Amazingly, the single didn't even reach the top 40 in the UK at the time. How?!

  9. Islands in the Stream (with Kenny Rogers)

    Kenny Rogers Dolly Parton Islands In the stream - 1st time they sang it live

    Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb decided to write this song as an R&B tune for Marvin Gaye, but it later transformed into a country-pop crossover.

    "The story is the producer and the writer on the song was one of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb," Kenny told People magazine.

    Read more: The Story of.. 'Islands in the Stream'

    "And we had been singing this song in my studio in L.A. for four days. And I finally said, 'Barry, I don't even like this song anymore.'

    "And he said, 'We need Dolly Parton.'

    "I said, 'Well, why not, you know?'. And Ken Kragen, my manager said, 'I saw her downstairs.' I said, 'Well, go get her.'

    "And Dolly, in her inimitable fashion, marched into the room and the song was never the same."

  10. Jolene

    Dolly Parton - Jolene -1973

    Dolly's most famous song is also her best. The song tells the tale of a woman confronting Jolene, a beautiful woman, who she believes is trying to steal away her lover/husband.

    According to Dolly, the song was inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean at their local branch around the time they were newly married. She has also said that Jolene's name and appearance are based on a young fan who came on stage for her autograph.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Jolene'

    It was Dolly's second solo number-one single on the US country charts in early 1974, and was also a moderate pop hit. By November 2016, it had sold over 733,000 digital copies in the US alone.

    In the UK, it became Dolly's first top ten hit, reaching number seven in 1976. It also re-entered the chart in 2014, after she performed at the Glastonbury Festival.