We’re Celebrating Dolly Parton’s Birthday With 5 of Her Most Brilliant Covers
Anytime is a good time to honor Dolly Parton (and that endless archive of Dolly Parton songs), but we thought we’d take the opportunity to take a look at some of our favorites seeing as how it’s her birthday. Of course, everyone knows her as an utterly brilliant songwriter. She grabbed that mantle early in her career with the absolutely amazing “Jolene.” And again with “I Will Always Love You.” And again. And again. And again.
But what people may not realize is that she’s also a fantastic interpreter of other people’s songs. To share the wealth, we thought instead of drilling into her own songwriting, which you’ll no doubt find elsewhere today, we’d take a look at five of those times she converted others’ hits into Dolly Parton songs.
Here are 5 amazing Dolly Parton songs that happen to be covers of other artists’ music:
1. “Stairway to Heaven”
“Stairway to Heaven” has a reputation as one of the world’s most covered songs. (Especially by random dudes in Guitar Centers.) But honestly, you only need one version of “Stairway to Heaven,” and it’s not Led Zeppelin’s. Dolly covered this for her 2002 Halos and Horns bluegrass album. She also added a few new lyrics — with Plant’s and Page’s blessing.
2. “In the Ghetto”
“In the Ghetto” was written by Mac Davis but made famous by Elvis Presley (and, uh, Cartman). But whereas Presley’s version is maudlin and, let’s be honest here, ridiculous, Dolly Parton does the song justice. Her voice combined with the less-bombastic arrangement brings out the pathos of inner city Chicago. You hear her heart breaking on the final verse. “In the Ghetto” may have revived Presley’s career, but Dolly owns it.
3. “Drives Me Crazy”
From her 2007 album Backwoods Barbie, Dolly chose yet another unexpected song to cover. Her version of the Fine Young Cannibals’ 1989 hit “She Drives Me Crazy” is surprisingly faithful. Dolly keeps the driving drums and power chords. Of course, the synthesizers have been swapped out for fiddles and mandolins, but that’s just how things are done in Dollywood, and we couldn’t be more pleased.
If that weren’t enough, Backwoods Barbie also features a great cover of Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears.” We would have put it on this list, but she’s got 52 solo albums — and that doesn’t even count her duet albums! Let’s spread the love a little!
4. “Islands in the Stream”
Speaking of those duets, Dolly recorded “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers for Rogers’ 1983 album Eyes That See in the Dark. (Despite doing a few duets with Kenny Rogers, their only duet album was Once Upon a Christmas.)
“Islands in the Stream” was a huge hit, but most people don’t realize it was a cover. The song was originally by the Bee Gees, though they only released their version in 2001. Barry and Maurice Gibb also played on and arranged the Kenny and Dolly version.
5. “Rocky Top/Yakety Sax”
Dolly Parton doesn’t get enough credit for her virtuosity on stringed instruments. She’s a stupendous guitarist and banjo player — and, as it turns out, she’s not so bad on saxophone either. On her 2016 tour promoting her Pure & Simple album, she did a cover of the bluegrass classic “Rocky Top,” made famous by the Osborne Brothers. She wails on the banjo — and with those nails! — but after the first verse she puts down the banjo. She then picks up a rhinestone-studded saxophone and blasts out Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax.” (Better known as “the Benny Hill theme”)
And if that weren’t enough, she even can play the song backwards in a feat that must be seen to be believed!