(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)
Although Dolly Parton has left an indelible mark on the music industry, not every song fills her with pride. Similarly to every artist who has ever lived, certain tracks in Parton’s back catalogue make her wince, but country music icon understands each release played a crucial role in enhancing her craft.
Even artists such as Paul McCartney or Bob Dylan have teething problems when they start making their own music. Songwriting is the same as any other profession; it only improves with dedication and a willingness to pour in countless hours. While it may seem like they are born with a God-given talent to produce songs, very few have managed to make careers without having an almost unhealthy desire to devote their lives to upgrading their skills.
Parton’s career began with her debut solo album, Hello, I’m Dolly, released in 1967. Her record label delayed The LP multiple times, and although it made the country chart, it failed to turn her into a superstar. To compound her misery, the follow-up record, Just Because I’m A Woman, charted even lower.
While these poor charting albums could have caused her career to come to an unwanted end, they ended up being a blessing in disguise. The tracks on these two records weren’t up to the standard that people later came to expect from Parton, but without making these mistakes, she’d never have had the opportunity to grow.
During an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2003, the host asked Parton to reflect on the worst songs of her career, leading her to name two songs from her first two records. The tracks in question are ‘I Don’t Want To Throw Rice’ from Hello, I’m Dolly and Just Because I’m A Woman’s ‘I’ll Oilwells Love You’, which she sang to the comedian.
“Oh, you know, you’ve always got, when you’re a songwriter, you think they’re all good. It’s like how everybody thinks their kids are pretty, even if they’re not. But yeah, there’s songs,” she said. Parton added: “I wrote this song once about a man; it’s about a man that owned a bunch of oil wells, and I was trying to marry him.”
While reflecting on ‘I’ll Oilwells Love You’ in 2008 during an interview with Mojo, Parton revealed the song had no connection to her later hit ‘I’ll Always Love You’. She explained: “That was not the first version of ‘I Will Always Love You’! I was just playing off the oil wells and Texan men, a spoof. Sometimes I write silly stuff just to get my wit going and mind working. That was a song I probably wrote while I was primed to write something good.”
Although ‘I’ll Oilwells Love You’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Throw Rice’ don’t represent the magnificence of Parton’s songwriting, having the room to experiment and fail is crucial for every artist, as she has proved since they were released.