Album of the Week, November 2: The Fairest of Them All by Dolly Parton

DollyFairestPossessionDolly Parton was born in 1946 in Sevier County, TN. Music was a large part of her childhood, both in church and at home. After graduating from high school, she moved to Nashville and found work as a songwriter, often working with her uncle, Bill Owens. She had been singing on stage since age eight and pursued a career on that side of the business as well, but was stymied by labels that felt her voice was best suited to bubblegum pop. After Bill Phillips hit #6 on the Country chart with her Put It Off Until Tomorrow — on which she sang harmony — she finally got her shot at performing and recording the music she loved. Boosted by the support of Country star Porter Wagoner, she signed to RCA in 1967. Over the next three years she recorded four albums and released a dozen singles that hit the Country charts, many as duets with Wagoner. In early 1970 she released one of her finest albums, a disc that shows off her growing vocal confidence and strong songwriting chops.

Title The Fairest of Them All
Act Dolly Parton
Label RCA Release Date February 1, 1970
Producer Bob Ferguson
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Daddy Come and Get Me
  2. Chas
  3. When Possession Gets Too Strong
  4. Before You Make Up Your Mind
  5. I’m Doing This For Your Sake
  6. But You Loved Me Then
  7. Just the Way I Am
  8. More Than Their Share
  9. Mammie
  10. Down From Dover
  11. Robert
  12. Everything Is Beautiful (In Its Own Way) [bonus track]

The title is quite apt. The Fairest of Them All is in many ways a set of modern fairy tales, often with dark endings and unexpected twists. Parton had become a master storyteller and her ability to weave a wide array of lyrical tapestries is a key part of the disc’s charm. (She wrote all but one track — Before You Make Up Your Mind, composed by Bill Owens — two co-written with other family members.) All the songs fit the musical mold of late 60s Country, but Parton’s diverse lyrical themes and charming vocals elevate the whole package to a special level.

In general, the songs fit into two categories: the story songs and the determination songs. The story songs fit the fairy tale mode more closely, starting with the album’s one single Daddy Come and Get Me. The tragic plea of a woman institutionalized by her philandering husband, it’s a powerful song that works despite some tropes of the times (like the spoken word bridge). Chas and Robert are both sad stories of unrequited love told from very different perspectives and each with a different sting in its tail. I’m Doing This For Your Sake is the lament of a young woman giving up her newborn child for adoption. All of these themes could be trite in less capable hands, but Parton’s smart writing and deft delivery make them work. The one near miss is Mammie, a pastiche of repentant bad girl and saintly caretaker stories that lacks the grace of the others.

But You Loved Me Then is as much Country breakup as fairy tale, with a standard why-did-things-go-wrong motif. Parton sings it high and wistful and gives it just the right energy to fit in the flow of things. Owens’ Before You Make Up Your Mind is a nice blend of this tradition with the determination that runs through many of the songs. A think-twice-before-you-leave-me song, it features an unusually gritty vocal that makes it one of the disc’s finest moments.

Three determination songs build on the lyrical tradition Parton started with 1968’s Just Because I’m A Woman. In Just the Way I Am, Parton reminds her partner that she is her own complicated person and that their relationship depends on her being accepted for strengths and flaws. It presents as a fluffy piece but has a strong core that fits the album. More Than Their Share is another broken relationship song, this time before the singer has quite decided how to deal with the situation she’s in. The contrast with the stronger narrators adds to the album’s complexity. When Possession Gets Too Strong is the most determined track, a strong statement of independence that won’t be stifled. It’s one of Parton’s best songs and a shining moment of hope and strength in a set of darker tales.

The album’s masterpiece blends determination with a tragic story. Down From Dover tells of an unwed woman waiting for her lover to return to support the child she carries. The sad end to the story says more about the society that limits her than the flaws in her choices, a result that arises from Parton’s flawless composition and delivery. Although Wagoner told her she’d never get airplay with songs like this, she believed in the song too much to leave it behind. It has become a staple of her live shows, a fan favorite, and one of her most covered tracks. This original rendition is one of the finest moments in 70s Country and a dark, beautiful gem of a song.

After many years out of print, The Fairest of Them All was released on CD in a two-for-one package with another lesser-known Parton disc. This included an outtake, the lovely, uplifting Everything Is Beautiful. While it doesn’t quite  fit thematically, it’s a strong song that provides a nice coda to the album and outshines a number of the original tracks.

The Fairest of Them All isn’t one of Dolly Parton’s most famous albums. Nor is it one of her most successful, with relatively low sales and only one single (Daddy Come and Get Me [Country #40]). It is, however, a huge leap in her songwriting and singing, and one of the most consistent collections in her long, impressive career. Much of her work can be appreciated through one of the many solid retrospective compilations available. This disc is a discrete, wonderful package that deserves to be appreciated for its own lovely offerings.

Song of the Day, September 16: More Than Their Share by Dolly Parton

DollyShareToday’s song is More Than Their Share by Dolly Parton. It appears on her lovely 1970 album, The Fairest of Them All, a song cycle of love, loss, and life stories. Written by Parton, the song fits nicely in her frequent theme of women seeking equality and fairness. She bemoans a partner who takes more than he gives, wondering if that’s how love has to be. Fragile but not weak, it’s a compelling delivery that makes the most of her clear, pure vocals. Unlike many of her independent woman lyrics, this one finds the narrator earlier in the process of doubting her relationship, a tricky position that Parton lays out nicely in both lyric and vocal delivery.

I say I’m sorry when the fault is not mine
And I take the blame for our fights all the time
I love you so much and it doesn’t seem fair
That someone must always give more than their share

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, November 18: Just Because I’m A Woman by Dolly Parton

DollyWomanToday’s song is Just Because I’m A Woman, the title track from Dolly Parton’s second album. Appearing in 1968, it was a bold statement at the time, especially for country music. It was the first of many strong, pro-woman songs that Parton would write and record throughout her singular career. Sung in her clear, strong voice, it unapologetically demands equal treatment and consideration in her relationship.

So when you look at me
Dont feel sorry for yourself
Just think of all the shame
You might have brought somebody else

Just let me tell you this
Then well both know where we stand
My mistakes are no worse than yours
Just because I’m a woman

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending November 12, 1983

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Richie 1
R & B All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Richie 4
Country Somebody’s Gonna Love You Lee Greenwood 1
Adult Contemporary All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Richie 1
Rock Love Is A Battlefield Pat Benatar 3
Album Synchronicity The Police 16

RichieAllNightRogersPartonIslandsThis week sees the second Hot 100 #1 hit in a row rule the Billboard charts. For the past two weeks, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton held down the #1 spot on three charts: Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and Country with their hit Islands In the Stream. (This is especially impressive given that no other Country #1 in 1983 had spent a second week at the top.) This week, Lionel Richie’s All Night Long (All Night) holds down #1 on the R&B chart for a fourth week and bumps the country superstars off the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary pinnacles. He would reign atop all three charts for an impressive four-week stretch.

Crossover hits have been a part of the charts all along. Big singles and big stars often wind up on two charts, occasionally on three. Dozens of Hot 100 #1s have managed to top another chart, and a few have managed a triple crown. Given the varying chart methodologies, the general volatility of the Country charts starting in the 70s, and the differing radio audiences, however, topping three charts simultaneously is quite rare. This week is the only time that one three-chart champ replaced another atop the Hot 100.

Curiously, two of the three artists involved had managed a simultaneous triple-crown before. Kenny Rogers hit #1 on the Hot 100, Country, and Adult Contemporary charts on Nov. 22, 1980 with Lady.

Lionel Richie is the all-time champion of #1 dominance. He not only managed the four-week run with All Night Long (and, incidentally, wrote Lady for Kenny Rogers), he had already managed the feat twice before and would do so again.

  • Three Times a Lady by the Commodores, written and sung by Richie, #1 Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary Aug. 19, 1978
  • Endless Love with Diana Ross, #1 Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary from Sep. 5 – 19, 1981 (three weeks)
  • Hello, #1 Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary May 12, 1984

He barely missed a fifth crown with Say You Say Me in January 1986.

The first artist to achieve this feat was — no surprise — Elvis Presley. He topped the Pop, R&B, and Country charts with four singles. Two of them managed simultaneous dominance.

  • Don’t Be Cruel / Hound Dog was #1 on all three charts for three nonconsecutive weeks starting Sep. 15, 1956
  • All Shook Up repeated the feat on May 11, 1957

Long-time chart champ Stevie Wonder also managed the feat twice.

  • I Just Called to Say I Love You spent three weeks atop the Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts starting October 13, 1984
  • Part-Time Lover topped the same three charts on November 2, 1985

Three other songs have managed a triple crown.

  • Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean: #1 Hot 100, Country, and Adult Contemporary on Nov. 20 and 27, 1961
  • I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles: #1 Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary for four weeks starting June 19, 1962
  • Vision of Love by Mariah Carey: #1 Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary on Aug. 11 and 18, 1990

Only one song has ever made the Top 5 on four charts. The End of the World by Skeeter Davis ruled the airwaves in early 1963, with four weeks at #1 on the Adult Contemporary, three weeks at #2 on the Country, two weeks at #2 on the Hot 100, and a peak at #4 on the R&B charts.

Song of the Day, August 22: When Possession Gets Too Strong by Dolly Parton

DollyFairestPossessionToday’s song is When Possession Gets Too Strong by Dolly Parton. It appears on her often-overlooked 1970 masterpiece The Fairest of Them All. Dolly was unusual in country music in the 60s, writing much of her own music. She also included strong feminist messages in many of her songs despite the conservative reputation of the genre, including her famous 1968 single Just Because I’m A Woman.

The Fairest of Them All features a number of lyrics about strong women, and When Possession Gets Too Strong is one of the most potent. Taking a clinging lover to task, she demands her freedom and an equal voice in the relationship — let me be myself while in love with you or I’m out the door.

So love me just for what I am don’t try to change a thing
And I’ll take you just like you are and I’ll expect the same
So if you want to love me you must understand all of me
For I’ll be movin’ on when possession gets too strong

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, March 22: Down From Dover by Dolly Parton

DollyDoverToday’s song is Down From Dover by Dolly Parton. It appeared first on her wonderful 1970 album The Fairest of Them All. That fairy tale style title serves the disc well, since it is filled with tragic characters and stories with sad twists. Down From Dover is one of the most tragic, the tale of a young woman, pregnant with her lover’s child, waiting for him to return. He never does, despite her abiding faith in him, and the baby is stillborn, sending her a sign that she must move on.

The whole thing could be unbearably melodramatic, but Dolly’s unique vocal power manages to make it poignant and sad instead. She wrote most of the album, really coming into her own as a composer, and this track shows a perfect marriage of her lyrics and music. The narrative is dense and tight and Dolly’s vocal moves perfectly from defiant to hopeful to despairing.

I loved him more than anything and I could not refuse him when he needed me
He was the only man I’d loved and I just can’t believe that he was using me
He couldn’t leave me here like this I know it can’t be so it can’t be over
He wouldn’t make me go through this so long he’ll be coming down from Dover

The song has been covered many times, by women as diverse as Skeeter Davis, Sally Timms, Nancy Sinatra, and Marianne Faithfull. While each of the covers lends something distinct to its lyrical power, nothing matches the broken beauty of Dolly’s original.

Enjoy this tragic tale of woe today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending July 31, 1982

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart

Song

Act

Weeks

Hot 100 Eye of the Tiger Survivor 2
R & B And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going Jennifer Holliday

2

Country I Don’t Care Ricky Skaggs

1

Adult Contemporary Even the Nights Are Better Air Supply

2

Rock Eye of the Tiger Survivor

5

Album Asia Asia

9

This week sees one of the biggest hits on the Billboard charts make its first Hot 100 appearance. Dolly Parton recorded I Will Always Love You in 1974 and it became her third Country #1. She recorded it again for the movie Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and it became her 16th Country #1 in October 1982. It debuted on the Country chart this week and also dipped its toe into the pop waters, debuting at #87 this week and working its way up to #53. That dual Country crown was impressive, but the real power was yet to come.

Whitney Houston included a show-stopping cover of the song on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard in 1992. That album became the best-selling soundtrack in history and the song spent a record-breaking 14 weeks at the top of the pop charts. Many artists made millions in writing royalties from the project, including Dolly. Just to round things out, the song charted again after Whitney’s untimely death, peaking at #3 It’s one of only two songs to make the Top 3 twice, following Chubby Checker’s two trips to #1 with The Twist.

Song of the Day, March 7: Telling Me Lies the Trio (originally by Linda Thompson)

Today’s song is Telling Me Lies by Linda Thompson and covered by the Trio. After divorce from husband Richard in 1982, Linda began the gradual work of assembling her first solo album. She wrote many of the tracks with Betsy Cook whom she had met through Gerry Rafferty when he was exchanging album work with Richard and Linda in the late 70s. Although many (including Linda herself) bemoan the heavy 80s production values, One Clear Moment is a strong album with many great songs. One of the true standouts is Telling Me Lies. Although it’s tempting to read it as autobiography (and perhaps a counterpoint to Richard’s She Twists the Knife Again from Across A Crowded Room, his album of the same year), it is a very universal song that fits easily into her catalog.

You told me you needed my company
And I believed in your flattering ways
Told me you needed me forever
Nearly gave you the rest of my days

Should’ve seen you for what you are
Should never have come back for more
Should’ve locked up all my silver
Brought the key back to your door

I cover my ears I close my eyes
Still hear your voice and it’s telling me lies
Telling me lies

The song took on new life in 1988 when Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt recorded a beautiful cover version for their album Trio. That recording went to #3 on the Country charts led to a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song and Linda Thompson’s only performance at a Grammy ceremony. (The song lost to Forever and Ever, Amen as performed by Randy Travis.) Copyright restrictions prevent the online availability of Linda’s brilliant original recording, so enjoy this video for the great Trio version today.

Song of the Day, January 19: Jolene by Dolly Parton

Today’s song is Jolene by Dolly Parton. This beautiful song is one of Parton’s finest compositions. It was an early success for the singer and songwriter, notching her a second #1 on the Country charts (out of a total of 25 so far). Rolling Stone‘s panel ranked it #217 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, a very high ranking for a Country song, especially one that did not successfully cross over to the Top 40. Dolly has won many awards for her songwriting, and this track is often listed as a prime example of her skills. Taking the form of an impassioned plea from a concerned wife, it has her asking the voluptuous Jolene to turn her attentions elsewhere. Deceptively simple in structure, it is a very powerful song and one of the singer’s finest vocal performances as well. Wish our Dolly a very happy 66th birthday and enjoy this live for TV performance of her brilliant song today.

Song of the Day, September 2: Here You Come Again by Dolly Parton

Today’s song is Here You Come Again by Dolly Parton. After more than a decade of success on the Country charts, Parton blasted onto the pop charts in 1977 with this, her first major cross-over hit. Although she wrote most of her own hits, this song was written by classic pop songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It’s a perfect fit for Dolly, proving she can pick them as well as she writes them. A perfect “I should know better, but…” love song, this remains a standout performance in her stellar career. Enjoy this pop-country gem today.

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