In 1993, Dolly Parton joined a different trio with fellow legends Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn to record “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” It’s the lone single off the album Honky Tonk Angels, an overlooked collection of songs that favored old classics and celebrated the role of women in country music. For example, the short-lived supergroup sang title track “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” with Kitty Wells and even got paired with a Patsy Cline vocal track on “Lovesick Blues.”
“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” deserves a closer look, if not for the accompanying video that shows half of Nashville wanting to barge into the ladies’ dressing room–an honor reserved for Chet Atkins.
A Country Classic
The song, written by Dick Reynolds and Jack Rhodes, was first recorded in 1956 by Wanda Jackson. Although the queen of rockabilly’s lyrics contained minor details absent in later versions, she set the bar high for what would become a standard cover for woman singers in folk and country.
American country singers took to the song in the coming years, namely Skeeter Davis, Rose Maddox and Jody Miller. A few men got in the act, as well, with Don Williams’ Pozo-Seco Singers, The Everly Brothers and Hawkshaw Hawkins cutting versions of the song in the early 1960’s.
A Crossover Success
Artists with Jackson’s crossover appeal also saw fit to record their own interpretations. UK folk/pop group The Springfields, featuring legendary vocalist Dusty Springfield, retooled the song in 1962 to fit their sound. Their folk revival and pop-friendly interpretation cracked the American Billboard charts’ top 20 while resounding with international markets. Perhaps that version’s success introduced the song to everyone from the Lee Hazlewood-produced pop band Honey Ltd. and the short-lived British group Fotheringay to Johnny Rivers. There’s even a live version out there by Janis Joplin, as well as examples of the Grateful Dead performing it with Bob Weir on lead vocals. Basically, a wide range of artists with ears for great songs loved Reynolds and Rhodes’ composition.
Circling back to the Honky Tonk Angels album, a couple of women near and dear to that trio’s hearts cut noteworthy country-pop crossover versions. Future Parton collaborator Linda Ronstadt recorded it twice, for 1969’s Hand Sown…Home Grown and 1973’s Don’t Cry Now. While the former was an album track, the latter was a single that further endeared a country-rock chameleon to Nashville. In the late ’70s, Ronstadt sang about the warm glow of that haloed moon and her antagonist’s lonely mansion on Parton’s variety show Dolly! alongside the host and Emmylou Harris. It was a preview of the ’80s supergroup that produced the Trio album.
Fast-forward to 1993, and country music was enjoying a mainstream renaissance. Three women who’d seen the music they love go uptown before got in on the act together, sharing their roots with a new generation of fans. Lynn’s sister Crystal Gayle had the same idea in 1993, shutting down a jerk’s cheating game in song for Best Always, a compilation album of re-recorded hits and cover songs.