16. The Bargain Store (DP), The Bargain Store (1975) Beautiful imagery and metaphor, even if some radio stations banned it because they thought the metaphors were too sexual. Her guitar licks on the intro are one of the most memorable in country music. Buy it on Essential Dolly Vol. 2!
12. Lonely Coming Down (Porter Wagoner), Jolene (1974) One of Porter's best songs, explains loneliness in tragically true emotion. Buy it on Jolene!
11. A Cowboy's Ways (DP), Burlap & Satin (1983) Originally "The Fields Where Stallions Run" for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" a year earlier, Burt Reynolds' version was cut from the film (but shown on the television edit version). Captures men's difficulty expressing emotions. This slightly re-written version is splendid, complete with a soaring cry at the end.
9. Put It Off Until Tomorrow (DP), Hello I'm Dolly (1966) True. Great traditional country ballad. Her best version of it. Buy it on The Little Things!
8. Down From Dover (DP), Fairest of Them All (1970) While not packing as much hard-hitting emotion as "Jeanie's Afraid of the Dark," this song tackles the time's sentiments on out-of-wedlock pregnancies and weaves the tale as a master storyteller would. Also, some of Dolly's most poetic lines, such as "The sun behind a cloud just casts a crawling shadow o'er the field of clover." She re-recorded it on 2001's Little Sparrow, complete with an additional verse which had been cut from the original. Buy the original on the import Gold: Greatest Hits.
6. Just Because I'm a Woman (DP), Just Because I'm a Woman (1968) One of the first country "women's lib" songs, she wrote it in response to her husband's reaction to learning she wasn't a virgin when they married. Powerful. Re-recorded for the 2003 tribute album of the same name. Buy it on Essential Dolly Vol. 2!
5. Don't Drop Out (Cason-Russell), Monument single (1966) The rare single is amazing. Recorded a year prior to her first chart single and before Monument would let her sing country, this song produced by Ray Stevens is the quintessential '60s girl-group sound. Reminiscent of "Leader of the Pack," this is Dolly "Lesley Gore" Parton! Buy it on Where The Girls Are!
4. She Never Met a Man She Didn't Like (DP), Coat of Many Colors (1971) I just love the driving melody. Also a clever take-off on Will Rodgers' famous line. Buy it on Coat of Many Colors!
2. TIE: Jolene (DP), Jolene (1974), and Coat Of Many Colors (DP), Coat Of Many Colors (1971). Jolene: Written because she liked the name Jolene when a girl asked her to pass a photograph on to Porter Wagoner with that name written on the back, this is a classic. Its melody is entrancing. The words are beautiful: ("With flaming locks of auburn hair/ivory skin and eyes of emerald green/Your smile is like a breath of spring/Your voice is soft like summer rain/And I cannot compete with you, Jolene.") One of her most recorded songs. Buy it on Jolene! Coat: Dolly's simple autobiographical tale of a coat her mother made her from scraps of cloth and the mistreatment she endured from her classmates at school over the poverty the coat represented is what Dolly calls her favorite song she has ever written. The love and family bonds described in the song have remained a source of strength for many who have heard the beautifully written tune. Buy it on Coat of Many Colors!
1. I Will Always Love You (DP), Jolene (1974) Her most covered tune, this recording is by far her best. Porter Wagoner said when she played it for him, he told her this is the most commercial song she'd ever penned because it was emotionally universal and that she could retire and live off this one song. Written for him to express her admiration and appreciation to him as she ended their duet partnership, it is the most honest song she has ever written. The version produced by him (uncredited) was sparsely orchestrated, letting her voice alone carry the weight. (Much better than her two later recordings of it. The chilling effect of the lyrics and melody with few instruments was also reflected in Whitney Houston's a capella first verse in her smash 1992 recording of it.) Its appeal launched her to a full-fledged country star, and its re-appearance in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in 1982 brought the film to its emotional climax and earned her the distinction of being the first artist on any chart to bring the same song to No. 1 twice. It will be remembered as the standard of the late 20th Century more than any other song since the 1960s. Buy it on Jolene!
And the runner-up for just missing my "Top 21": Her amazing spiritual cover of the Led Zeppelin classic "Stairway To Heaven" on 2002's Halos and Horns. Order it here!