5 Times Dolly Parton Went Rock

Country Music News

In spite of Dolly Parton’s initial misgivings about accepting a nomination to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the country music icon is officially going to become a member: Her name was among those in the Class of 2022 announced on Wednesday morning. “I am honored and humbled by the fact that I have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course I will accept it gracefully,” Parton wrote on social media. “Thanks to everyone that voted for me and to everyone at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I will continue to work hard and try to live up to the honor.”

It’s worth noting that Parton’s very first recording was, in fact, one that rocked. The 1959 single called “Puppy Love,” which a 13-year-old Parton wrote with her uncle Bill Owens, was recorded at Goldband Studio in Lake Charles, Louisiana, founded by musician Ed Shuler. Parton’s single was a bubbly tune punctuated by electric guitar, a rock beat, and an exuberant, youthful vocal (think fellow future Rock Hall legend Brenda Lee on helium). Although it garnered the teenager some radio airplay, it didn’t exactly set Dolly on a path to rock & roll stardom. Since that time, however, she has managed to skillfully straddle the blurred lines between country and pop, and her rare excursions into the rock & roll songbook always approached the genre with the same zeal that distinguished her pure country classics. Here are five of the best.

“Time for Me to Fly” (1989)

Although rainbows generally follow rain, Parton experienced those two things in reverse as her excellent 1989 album White Limozeen was the ray of sunshine following the dismal creative and commercial spot that was her 1987 LP Rainbow. That desire to reset and take off to new heights comes through beautifully in her version of this 1978 REO Speedwagon power ballad. Produced by Ricky Skaggs, the track heads skyward aided by Dolly’s gutsy vocal and some relentlessly entertaining bluegrass instrumentation.

“Stairway to Heaven” (2002)

OK, so Dolly’s majestic version of this ubiquitous Led Zeppelin gem didn’t exactly uncover any deep, hidden meaning there might be in the song’s lyrics. But her gospel-choir-backed rendition, included on the brilliant 2002 album Halos & Horns, is delivered with the Dolly trademarks of compassion and tenderness, and offers something more than clarity — namely hope. That’s one way to clear out any of those pesky bustles in your hedgerow.

“Lay Your Hands on Me” (2014)

Dolly’s historic 2014 performance at Glastonbury, the U.K.’s premier music festival, drew a crowd of more than 100,000 and set a high watermark for the event. Though the performance was pure Dolly, she was joined by a special guest: former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who with bandmate Jon Bon Jovi had a 1989 Top 10 hit with this gut-crunching rocker. With permission from its authors, Parton tweaked the secular lyrics and turned it into a fiery gospel number for Blue Smoke, which became Parton’s highest-charting solo album ever on the Billboard 200.

“Shine” (2001)

Parton was inspired by hearing this 1994 Collective Soul hit on the car radio, with her rock & roll-loving husband Carl Dean by her side. She enlisted the members of alt-bluegrass trio Nickel Creek to accompany her on a soaring 2001 version for Little Sparrow, the first in her trilogy of acoustic bluegrass LPs. Given that the song’s lyrics take such a contemplative gaze heavenward, just as Parton has in so many of her own compositions, it’s no surprise she was drawn to it. Even though it wasn’t her song, her cover did win her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

“Help!” (1979)

Countless tributes to John Lennon’s songwriting genius would flood the market after his murder, but this especially poignant one predates the tragedy by a year. Dolly’s 1979 LP Great Balls of Fire included her own sizzling take on that Jerry Lee Lewis rocker, but she would also pay homage to the Beatles with a zippy, bluegrass reworking of the band’s 1965 film tune, penned chiefly by Lennon with assistance from bandmate Paul McCartney. Parton’s breezy and enthusiastic version earns the song its exclamation point and sets the stage for more tasty covers to come.

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