One of a dozen children from a poor family in rural eastern Tennessee, Dolly Parton left for Nashville the day after she graduated from high school.
Her first song to hit the Billboard charts was “Dumb Blonde,” though she herself is not. She’s often said it costs a lot of money to maintain her cheap look, and she’s become one of country music’s most successful artists and entrepreneurs. Parton is a prolific songwriter with a pretty voice. She has her own straightforward, usually positive visions of home and love, and, apparently, a theory that any song longer than three minutes wastes radio time and any album with more than about 10 songs is overkill. Three classics, now reissued — Coat of Many Colors (1971), My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973), and Jolene (1974), each with a classic title song — established Parton as a solo artist rather than as Porter Wagoner’s duet partner and helped open up country music to more than the traditional handful of female artists. All three reissues (with a total of nine bonus tracks) are closer to her country roots than some of the later folk-pop songs that propelled her to crossover stardom in the late 1970s.
Altogether, Parton has 25 gold, platinum, and multi-platinum records, 26 No. 1 Billboard hits; and total sales of more than 100 million records. Her earnings have obviously made her rich — and also revitalized the economically starved area where she grew up, with her Dollywood theme park and other investments. The most prophetic of the 40 songs on these reissues is “Down on Music Row,” which includes the line “If you want to be a star, that’s where you’ve got to go.” The song recounts Parton’s move to Nashville where, early on her first morning, she ate a stale sweet roll on the steps of the RCA building, washed her face in the fountain at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and began knocking on doors.-Tom Geddie