The Ultimate Dolly Parton Playlist

In honor of the Opry’s Dolly Week, musicians recommend essential tracks by the Smoky Mountain Songbird

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dolly Parton in 1974.

Country music is always evolving, but over the last half-century, there’s been at least one constant—Dolly Parton. The 73-year-old trailblazer has topped the charts, graced screens big and small, and paved the way for a generation of artists who followed. Beginning October 10 in Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry will celebrate Dolly Week to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Parton’s induction into the long-running musical show. “She not only represents what it means to be a strong, independent, self-made woman, but she continually inspires others to see what’s possible,” says singer and television personality Kellie Pickler.

Parton’s influence extends beyond music, too. “She donates so much of her time and money to the community where she grew up,” says Margo Price, one of the artists slated to honor Parton this week. “When the fires hit East Tennessee [in 2016], she was there to help support the rural fire departments and folks who lost their homes. And I love that she started the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which brings literature to children all over. When we were a young family starting out, we looked forward to getting a book from Dolly in the mail every month to read to our son.”

As Nashville looks back on Parton’s milestone, G&G asked admirers in the industry to recommend songs from her vast catalog, and the resulting playlist is equal parts big hits and deep cuts—a testament to how profoundly Parton has influenced those who follow in her footsteps. Every single one of us has been influenced by Dolly,” says singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde. “And what a gift that is.”  

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Tim Bower

“9 to 5”

“That’s a well-crafted song—specifically all the internal rhymes: Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen / Pour myself a cup of ambition. We’d all love to write that opening line and have it spill out and sound so right. It’s a blue-collar anthem.” Brandy Clark

I admire Dolly’s ability to write complex yet catchy songs. She has been such a unique individual from the start and doesn’t care what people think of her. I love that she left the Porter Wagoner Show to focus on her own career—she knew what she had, and she believed in herself, and it paid off. I try to follow my heart and my vision even when others may try to pull me somewhere else. ‘9 to 5’ is the anthem of the working class. I’ve been singing it to close out my shows, and it’s a crowd pleaser. It makes everyone happy to sing along, and yet it’s still deep and has a message.” Margo Price


“These Old Bones”

“The scene is painted from the get-go: She lived up on the mountain / Eleven miles or so from town / With a one-eyed cat named Wink / A billy goat and a bluetick hound. The writing is just incredible. I’m ready to be part of whatever adventures may ensue—and to this day, I want a one-eyed cat named Wink.” Ashley McBryde


“The Letter”

“I wish more people [knew] the album My Tennessee Mountain Home, especially the song ‘The Letter.’ It is a spoken track of Dolly reading the first letter she sent back to her parents from Nashville in 1964. It paints the picture of her lonesome journey to Nashville and shows all the strength she already possessed at a young age. God only made one Dolly—we must appreciate her.” —Caylee Hammack



“From Trio, the record she made with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. I love the song because it’s a wonderful biographical metaphor for her life: So I uprooted myself from my home ground and left / Took my dreams and I took to the road / When a flower grows wild, it can always survive / Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.” Drew Holcomb


“Coat of Many Colors” 

“We could all learn to be a little more like Dolly. She is so kind, and I love her unapologetic honesty. Growing up, I had quilts that my grandma gave me that were made from all different types of fabrics. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned the quilts were made from her clothing; she used her own clothes to keep her children warm, too.” —Mickey Guyton

Every time I hear ‘Coat of Many Colors,’ I can also see it. The lyrics just paint vivid pictures in my mind. Dolly is a trailblazer, from the way she writes songs to the way she does business. She shows artists that you can be nice to people, and still be stern in getting what you want out of your career. I admire the heck out of Dolly for that.” —Kendell Marvel


“Here You Come Again”
“The melody and the vulnerability in these lyrics are just so good, and who hasn’t been there? Dolly has given country artists a beautiful example of how you can venture outside of the genre—to share your talents in other places—but never depart from it.”  —Hillary Scott, of Lady Antebellum


“I Will Always Love You” 

“Her vocal shakes me to my core, and the story behind her writing the song, and having it recorded by superstars, is one of the coolest stories ever. She’s a creative genius, but also incredibly intelligent on the business side.” —Maddie Marlow, of Maddie & Tae 


“Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?”

“Dolly reminds me every day to work harder, stay centered in the love for the music itself, and to always stay open hearted, empathetic, and caring of all kinds of people. There are so many Dolly songs to choose from. This one, which she didn’t write but very much made her own, is one of my favorites. It’s clever and courageous—she’s talking about desiring a man in a way that’s not often heard in country music. Her performance makes the song.”  —Michaela Anne



“Dolly is the ultimate icon. She is an amazing songwriter, vocalist, businesswoman, and visionary. She has created opportunities for so many artists and fans. When I worked at Dollywood, she took time to come and meet her employees, and she’s always finding ways to give back and love on other people. Dolly wrote ‘Jolene’ by herself, and you can hear the pain. I can feel her pleading to this woman to not take her man.” —Carly Pearce


And many more…

“I could go on and on: ‘Just Because I’m a Woman,’ ‘False Eyelashes,’ ‘Touch Your Woman,’ ‘Shattered Image,’ ‘Gettin’ Happy,’ ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home,’ ‘Down from Dover.’ The constant theme that I love in all of these is truth. Dolly embraces herself and her story, and tells so many women’s stories through her own. She doesn’t run away from who she is and she never has. I aim to approach my work like this, always.”  Kelsey Waldon


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