With her youthfully energetic performance at Glastonbury 2014, it’s hard to believe that 7-time Grammy award winner, Dolly Parton, is turning 70 today.
The Queen of country music’s iconic and unmistakable voice has propelled her to unparalleled success, producing classics such as ‘Jolene’, ‘9 To 5’ and ‘Higher And Higher’.
Her talents remain unprecedented amongst the country music scene and she is widely recognised as one of the most prolific songwriters in the industry. She even wrote (and recorded) the profoundly successful ‘I Will Always Love You’ - which was later made even more famous by Whitney Houston.
However, whilst her name may always be synonymous with country music, Dolly’s musical taste extended far beyond the genre. Throughout her career, she covered a number of artists, including some of the biggest names in rock and roll.
To commemorate the legend and celebrate her 70th birthday, we have compiled a list of our favourite tracks covered by Dolly herself.
‘After The Gold Rush’ – Neil Young
Whilst Neil Young claimed he had no idea what his song was about, Dolly added her own meaning to it and believed it was about the second coming or an alien invasion - or both. As a result, her version of the Young classic is eerie but somehow warming. Dolly does justice to Young’s famously ethereal vocals with her effortlessly beautiful voice. She sings engagingly, elegantly painting the picture created by Young’s lyrics.
The song was featured on an album called Trio II by Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in 1999. The trio were awarded a Grammy for their cover.
‘Stairway To Heaven’ – Led Zeppelin
Whilst this Zeppelin classic may be every guitarist’s party piece, only the truly daring cover it and only the truly talented do it justice. Dolly is certainly one of them. Whilst ‘Stairway To Heaven’ may be as far removed from country music as you can fathom, Dolly manages to partner classic rock with classic country. The iconic fragile acoustic guitar intro is preserved, but a sustained cello replaces the medieval-style recorders. Dolly also introduces a mandolin to thicken the texture, creating a blue-grass feel to the song, which is used surprisingly tastefully. Dolly’s voice is superb throughout the record and hearing just her voice singing “and she’s buying a stairway to heaven” to close the song will give you the chills.
The song appeared on Dolly’s Halos And Horns album in 2002.
‘I Walk The Line’ – Johnny Cash
Johnny’s classic had already etched its way into country music history, but Dolly’s version augments it to another level. It’s surprisingly heavier and daringly goes without Johnny’s iconic walking bass line. The thick drumbeat and heavily distorted guitar give Dolly an unforgivingly strong rhythm to work with. As a result, Dolly is almost aggressive in her singing. Whereas Johnny was calmly romantic in his original, there is almost a sense of frustration and irritation in Dolly’s voice, making her version audaciously bolder. It can’t trump Johnny’s original, but is certainly a contender amongst covers.
Dolly’s cover appeared on her 1984 album, The Great Pretender.
‘Help’ – The Beatles
When the Fab Four unleashed this earth-shattering track to the world, music was irreversibly revolutionised and to this date, musicians are drawing inspiration from this timeless classic. Dolly, who undoubtedly was a Beatles fan, took this classic and transformed it into a blue-grass country track. The banjo and guitar partnership work well together to create an upbeat and jolly sound. However, there’s a sadness to Dolly’s voice and Lennon & McCartney’s somber lyrics are highlighted even more so than on their original. “Help, I need somebody” Dolly sings pleadingly over a strung out guitar chord, reminding us that despite its energetic feel, it is actually this is a very distressful song.
The Fab Four cover appeared on Dolly’s 1979 album, Great Balls Of Fire.
‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ – The Animals
A busker’s favourite, this Animals track has long cemented itself in classic rock history. Unlike budding guitarists and generic rock bands, Dolly bravely moves away from The Animal’s arpeggio guitar intro and introduces her own ‘9 to 5’ groove to it. Indeed, relentless piano bass notes are almost signatory of Dolly. However, Dolly goes one step beyond piano bass notes and embraces an almost disco feel to her cover. A finger bass replicates the piano bass and the 80’s synth jabs supported by a strong drumbeat transform The Animal’s classic into a Dolly-infused disco track. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s worth a listen just for Dolly’s voice.
The track appeared on Dolly’s 1980 concept album 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs.
‘Blowin In The Wind’ – Bob Dylan
Although hardly a demanding song for such a powerful voice, Dolly’s soft and tender take on Dylan’s legendary folk classic is certainly worth a listen. The subtle banjo hints at Dolly’s familiar country style and it would fit comfortably amongst her repertoire of country songs.
Dolly featured this Dylan cover on her 39th studio album, Those Were The Days, which was released in 2005.
‘Time For Me To Fly’ – REO Speedwagon
If you listen to Dolly’s version of this REO Speedwagon anthem, it’s hard to imagine it was once a classic rock song. Fast paced banjo picking, and slide guitars as well as Dolly’s chirpy singing disguise any trace of a rock song. Instead of being blasted out of an 80’s rock radio station, Dolly’s version would be blasted out at a Midwestern barn dance. Bluegrass may not be to everyone’s liking, but the creative transformation of this track is inspiring.
The track appeared on Dolly’s 1989 White Limozeen album.
‘Imagine’ – John Lennon
Perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written, it is only fitting for one of the greatest singers to perform it. Instrumentally, Dolly’s version blends pop and traditional country. Sustained strings, a tingling banjo, slide guitars, a harmonious backing chorus and a delicate drum kit are all infused to create this magical cover. Dolly’s voice is expectedly tender but powerful and it sounds like she sincerely believes in the lyrics she is singing.
This Lennon tribute appeared on Dolly’s 2005 Those Were The Days album.
‘Great Balls Of Fire’ – Jerry Lee Lewis
This boogie-woogie rock and roll number from Jerry Lee Lewis provided the backbone structure of all 12 bar blues rock and roll songs to follow. Whilst keeping the walking bass line, piano riff and drum kit, Dolly adds an electric guitar, a brass section and of course, her signature voice to the mix. It sounds like Dolly had a great time recording this track, with her energy almost going into overdrive when she exclaims “great balls of fire”. It’s a fantastic number, covered by a legendary voice.
This cover appeared on Dolly’s 1979 album of the same name, Great Balls Of Fire.
‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ – Bon Jovi
This glam rock track remains one of Bon Jovi’s greatest songs. Their version ticked all the boxes of a stadium 80’s rock song – heavily distorted guitars, screeching guitar solos, an infectious chorus, and hard snare-snapping drums. Dolly’s version is expectedly softer, but is by no means timid. Indeed, electric guitars are still in abundance here, but so are strings, solos and even the odd banjo. It’s a good amalgamation of classic rock and country and is one of Dolly’s heavier tracks.
This track featured on Dolly’s latest album, Blue Smoke, which was released in 2014.
‘Everyday People’ – Sly & The Family Stone
The backbone of this soul classic is simple by nature, leaving it open for other artists’ interpretations. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts did an unforgettable hard rock version by simply turning the piano chords into distorted power chords and thickening up the drum kit. When Dolly came to cover it, she brought along her ‘9 to 5’ sound of a jumpy piano and strong drum beat. It’s not quite as country as expected, but it’s a solid pop song.
The track also appeared on Dolly’s 1980 concept album 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs.
‘My Girl’ – The Temptations
So many artists have covered ‘My Girl’ that it’s difficult to remember which artist actually performed the original. However, Dolly’s version is vastly distinct from the typical cover. She does away with the iconic 6 note ascending bass riff and instead enshrines the song with shimmering percussion and country inspired guitar and piano interludes. Unlike Jack White who kept the line “please don’t take my man” when covering Dolly’s ‘Jolene’, Dolly replaces the word ‘girl’ with ‘love’ here, but still retains the passion embraced by the original. It’s easy to listen to and damn romantic.
The cover appeared on Dolly’s 1977 album, New Harvest...First Gathering.
‘In The Ghetto’ – Elvis Presley
Moving lyrics and simple melodies are key components of country music. Thereby, the sad tale of ‘In The Ghetto’ should already fit comfortably amongst tear-jerking country numbers. From one extraordinarily unique voice to another, Dolly borrows the Elvis classic and turns it into her own emotive country song. The beauty of Elvis’ version lies in his delivery. It’s not a taxing song to sing, by all means, but its simple nature allows Elvis to showcase the effortless elegance of his’ voice. The same is true for Dolly’s version. Instrumentally, she doesn’t diverge away from Elvis’ version, keeping the echoing harmonies, militant drum roll and rolling guitar riff. By doing so, Dolly’s powerful but tender voice is proudly exhibited without any distractions. The result is an equally emotive ballad, which may not rival The King’s original but should certainly be crowned the Queen of covers.
This Elvis cover appeared on Dolly’s 1969 album, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy.