What makes her rock ‘n’ roll? Was her inclusion on the list of nominees just a ploy to capitalize on Parton’s fame, or was there something more? Well, if Rock Hall voters are to be believed, there’s definitely something more there.
They’ve voted to include Parton in the Hall’s 2022 class of inductees alongside Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Pat Benatar, Carly Simon, Lionel Richie and Eminem. Maybe some of them saw something Parton didn’t — or maybe they just recalled the “Jolene” singer’s litany of rather excellent rock interpretations.
Below is a guide to 31 great Dolly Parton’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll covers.
By: Collective Soul (1993)
Parton enlisted Nickel Creek to add a bluegrass tinge to her take on “Shine,” then released it on her excellent 2001 record Little Sparrow. This update would earn Parton a Grammy in 2002 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
By: The Beatles (1965)
Parton took on this Beatles classic back in 1979, adding countryfied rolling guitar and drum brushes. She also lends a little yodeling twang to the lyrics, making “Help!” her own.
By: John Lennon (1971)
Just listen to the lyrics of “Imagine” and you’ll know why it’s such a natural fit for Parton. The notoriously peace-loving and friendly singer teamed up with David Foster for her schlocky take, which appears on 2005’s Those Were the Days.
“The House of the Rising Sun”
Performed by: The Animals (1964)
Parton’s take on this traditional folk song was released on 1980’s 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, and it’s decidedly more disco-friendly than past artists might have thought the song to be. “The House of the Rising Sun” opens with hot synth licks and only gets funkier from there.
“Stairway to Heaven”
By: Led Zeppelin (1971)
Probably one of Parton’s best rock covers, “Stairway to Heaven” was part of her 2002 LP Halos and Horns. It’s laced with more cello and mandolin than Zeppelin probably could have imagined in 1971, but her take has been blessed by both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
“Great Balls of Fire”
Performed by: Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
Opening with a souped up rhythm guitar rumble that wouldn’t be out of place on a Runaways record, Parton’s title-track update of Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer’s “Great Balls of Fire” also dives deep into disco. This was 1979, after all, and she had to keep up with trends. It’s interesting to hear what she does with the cut, if only to see how different it is from Lewis’ original.
“Blowin’ in the Wind”
By: Bob Dylan (1963)
Parton’s 2005 record Those Were the Days was a straight-up cover LP, mostly aimed at folk and pop cuts from the ‘60s and ‘70s. She could be found once again collaborating with Nickel Creek on this version of Dylan’s classic cut, though she noticeably holds herself back a little to match Dylan’s energy.
“Lay Your Hands on Me”
By: Bon Jovi (1989)
It’s probably safe to say that when Bon Jovi first released “Lay Your Hands on Me” in the ‘80s, the song’s lyrics were probably a bit more tongue-in-cheek than Parton makes them. Bon Jovi’s take on lines like “Lord, I’m ready, I’m willing and you’re able / to fill my empty cup at the master’s table” certainly skews a little more salacious than Parton’s cover, which kicks off with a pipe organ and wouldn’t be out of place at a tent revival.
“After the Gold Rush”
By: Neil Young (1970)
“Time for Me to Fly”
By: REO Speedwagon (1978)
Part of the 1989 record White Limozeen, “Time for Me to Fly” is another of Parton’s countryfied covers. She brought the whole barn dance this time around, adding slide guitar, banjo and even a little mandolin.
By: Sly & the Family Stone (1968)
Parton’s take on “Everyday People” isn’t anywhere near as good as Sly & the Family Stone’s original, but you’ve kind of got to give her credit for trying, right?
Performed by: The Temptations (1965)
Originally written by the Miracles’ Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, “My Girl” was actually first cut by the Temptations, who took it to No. 1. Robinson has said that his inspiration for the song was his wife, but Parton makes it her own by switching up the words in the chorus, dedicating the track to “my love.”
“In the Ghetto”
Performed by: Elvis Presley (1969)
As strange a fit for her as it was for Presley, Mac Davis’ “In the Ghetto” was first released by Parton as part of her 1969 LP, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. Parton doesn’t veer too sharply from the simple vocal style of Presley, beyond adding her own plaintive phrasing.
“Walking on Sunshine”
By: Katrina and the Waves (1983)
Parton makes this Katrina and the Waves hit her own by blending it with her own “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” She also adds an almost theme park-ready vibe to it, turning an already pretty positive song into something that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Dollywood revue.
“Peace Train” and “Where Do the Children Play?”
By: Yusuf Islam, (Cat Stevens) (1971 and 1970)
Parton and Yusuf Islam are longtime friends, so it makes perfect sense that she would think of his songs when looking for new covers. Her version of “Peace Train” is performed in tandem with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who began international sensations after appearing on Paul Simon’s 1986 Graceland LP. “Where Do the Children Play?” isn’t quite as charming, but Parton does enlist Islam’s help with background vocals.
“I Walk the Line” and “I Still Miss Someone”
By: Johnny Cash (1957 and 1958)
Cash lived most of his life firmly in the country world, but he had the occasional rock crossover. “I Walk the Line” is one of those tracks, and Parton gave it a pop-rock twist for her 1984 LP The Great Pretender. Her version of “I Still Love Someone” is straight up bluegrass from the jump, and a bit more of a ballad than Cash’s original take.
“She Drives Me Crazy”
By: Fine Young Cannibals (1988)
A track Parton has said she covered for 2008’s Backwoods Barbie just because her husband loves the original so much, the slightly renamed “Drives Me Crazy” doesn’t veer too far from the original in tone, but subs in more traditionally country instruments.
By: Bread (1971)
This cover also appeared on 2002’s Halos and Horns. Lush with pillow soft vocals and wobbling guitars, it’s just as sweet at the original.
“Love Is Strange”
Performed By: Mickey & Sylvia (1957)
Written by Bo Diddley, “Love Is Strange” became a No. 1 crossover hit for Mickey & Sylvia in 1957. The song was revived for 1987’s Dirty Dancing, before Parton made it the title track for her new album in 1990. She once again teamed up with longtime buddy Kenny Rogers, though the duo doesn’t quite capture the magic of some of their previous duets.
By: Billy Joel (1972)
Released as the first single from Piano Man, Joel’s “Travelin’ Prayer” always had a little banjo on it. When Parton tackled the cut for 1999’s The Grass Is Blue, however, she took the rootsy feel to a whole new level. She’s got grade-A finger pickers working from the beginning, giving the song even more urgency than Joel did the first time around.
“Me and Bobby McGee”
Performed by: Janis Joplin (1971)
Parton teamed up with Kris Kristofferson for an update of his song “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was first cut by Roger Miller in 1969. Joplin’s version took the song to a much wider audience, becoming a massive hit after she died. In Parton’s hands, “Me and Bobby McGee” veers back toward its country roots.
“Son of a Preacher Man”
Performed by: Dusty Springfield (1968)
Parton recorded John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins’s classic “Son of a Preacher Man” in 1996, intending to release it as part of her Treasures album. It didn’t make the cut and remains unreleased, though Parton still occasionally performs the song in concert.
By: The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
“Lovin’ You” was covered by Parton a little over 10 years after the Lovin’ Spoonful for Here You Come Again. Her version gives the track a one-two trot that makes it feel very Dukes of Hazzard, so it’s a bit of a country time capsule.
“Save the Last Dance for Me”
Performed by: The Drifters (1960)
Parton’s version of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s “Save the Last Dance for Me” is similarly dated. Her take from 1984’s The Great Pretender opens with obscenely ‘80s synths and a very basic drum-machine beat, for some reason, and it doesn’t get any more timeless from there. Still, if you’re the type of person who pulls out the occasional Spandau Ballet record, it’s worth a spin.
“The Great Pretender”
Performed by: The Platters (1955)
Parton takes Buck Ram’s “The Great Pretender” to church on the title track from her 1984 LP. There’s even a gospel choir. Throw it on, sit back and imagine light streaming through stained glass.
“Crimson and Clover”
By: Tommy James and the Shondells (1968)
Parton enlists Tommy James for her version of “Crimson and Clover,” which was part of 2005’s Those Are the Days. Her version isn’t quite as hypnotic as the original, but it does have a banjo, so that’s something.
“Turn! Turn! Turn!”
Performed by: The Byrds (1965)
Pete Seeger cribbed from the Bible while completing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in the late ‘50s. Most of the lyrics, save the title and the last two lines, come directly from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Parton’s a churchgoing gal herself, so it makes sense that she’d try her hand at the song. She even enlisted the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn for backup.
“Put a Little Love in Your Heart”
By: Jackie DeShannon (1969)
DeShannon isn’t exactly a household name these days, but she did cut two really massive singles in her day: “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” Parton took a crack at the latter for 1993’s Slow Dancing With the Moon, adding yet another gospel choir.
“(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”
Performed by: Jackie Wilson (1967)
Two artists made “Higher and Higher” a hit: Jackie Wilson, who first cut it in 1967, and Rita Coolidge, who took her crack a decade later. Both versions of the original tune by Gary Jackson, Raynard Miner and Carl Smith ended up charting, perhaps inspiring Parton to try her own crack in 1977 for New Harvest … First Gathering. Her version isn’t quite as successful, but if you love Dolly, it’s a must-hear.
Artists Who Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Let’s pause for a moment to recognize the many artists who’ve yet to be recognized.