Dolly Parton is unequivocally among the best songwriters to ever exist ? if not the best. Her catalog boasts more than 50 solo studio albums, two in collaboration with Linda Ronstandt and Emmylou Harris, one with Kenny Rogers, and numerous live collections, among many other compilations and re-releases.
She's penned more than 3,000 songs in her lifetime, but she's not one to pass on a song someone else has written. In true songwriter fashion, the country icon celebrates the art of storytelling, and if a song strikes her fancy, she'll cut it. From the beginning of her career, she displayed a willingness to cut outside songwriters, as she did with "Dumb Blonde," a Top 40 hit on her first record Hello, I'm Dolly. It always came down to honoring the original intent.
Throughout her career, she has also been known to take popular songs and reframe them in different styles, including bluegrass, to fit her voice. Whether it was a silky R&B smash or a rock standard, no genres were off limits for her. That's the mark of a true artist, possessing an ability to find exciting new meanings and make a song wholly one's own.
Here are Dolly's 10 best covers, ranked.
10. "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher"
Jackie Wilson recorded "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) HIgher and Higher" for his 1967 record, Higher and Higher. 10 yeas later, Dolly injects the R&B standard with fierce, plucky energy for her New Harvest...First Gathering album.
9. "Stairway to Heaven"
Dolly brings a warm reverence to "Stairway to Heaven" you don't receive in the 1971 Led Zeppelin original. Banjos ring out in the arrangement like trumpets down from heaven. It's an appropriate closer to the singer-songwriter's 2002 studio album, Halos & Horns, as one of two covers she included on the release.
8. "Drives Me Crazy"
Fine Young Cannibals took "Drives Me Crazy," off their 1989 record The Raw & the Cooked, to the top of countless charts all over the world. Recorded for Backwoods Barbie (2008), the country superstar kept much of the original intact while naturally infusing her downhome twang into the mix.
7. "Me and Bobby McGee"
"Me and Bobby McGee" was written by country stalwart Kris Kristofferson and originally performed by Roger Miller. Janis Joplin famously covered it soon after and scored a posthumous chart-topper in 1971. For her 2005 covers album, Those Were the Days, Dolly slips into the song as though she'd been singing it all her life.
6. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"
Dolly put a little gospel into her joyful reworking of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," originally performed by Jackie DeShannon in 1969. Recorded on her 1993 record, Slow Dancing with the Moon, keeps the spirit of the original in place while also sweeping right into the heavens.
5. "After the Goldrush"
Dolly, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt joined forces to tackle Neil Young's "After the Goldrush," from his 1970 LP of the same name, on their second collaborative project, 1999's Trio II. Together, the environmental ode feels angelic and earnest, while never tipping into preachy territory. Dolly also recorded a version with Alison Krauss, Viktor Krauss, and Suzane Cox for her 1996 record, Treasures.
4. "Blowin' in the Wind"
In collaboration with Nickel Creek, Dolly took Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," from his 1962 LP The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and reexamined its themes of war, peace and love. "How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?" she questions. Released on her 2005 album Those Were the Days, there's a sharp poignancy when you consider the social and political times in the mid-aughts, namely the Iraq War.
3. "Help!" by the Beatles
Initially released in 1965, The Beatles' "Help!" served as the title to the Richard Lester-directed film of the same name and an accompanying album. It quickly became a chart-topping hit in the U.K. and stateside. Dolly spun her own galloping, bluegrass-flecked rendition for her 1979 studio set Great Balls of Fire.
2. "Great Balls of Fire"
"Great Balls of Fire" was written and first recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957. Perfectly capturing the rock 'n roll spirit, the groovy little number has been covered by nearly everyone in the music business, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Dolly supplied her own version in 1979 as the title track to her 21st studio LP, keeping in the tradition of the original rather than flipping it into a bluegrass or country song. And that's why it just works.
1. "The Story"
Brandi Carlile's "The Story" was custom made for Dolly. Originally released on Carlile's 2007 album of the same name, Dolly reimagined the song for the 10-year anniversary release, Cover Stories, into a beautiful meditation of life and getting older.
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