3 of Dolly Parton’s Favorite Songs

Prior to her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022, Dolly Parton vowed to make a rock album and revealed several songs she plans to cover, including the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven,” and the 1981 Journey ballad “Open Arms.”

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Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Free Bird”) and Prince (“Purple Rain”) also made the list, along with featured artists, including Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty and Steve Perry. Aside from rock and roll, and the extensive catalog of music Parton has created on her own for nearly 60 years, there are three, distinct songs that always had a profound impact on the country legend over the years.

The folk song her mother sang to her as a child, a late 1970s pop hit, and the country ballad by her all-time favorite singer, these three songs left the deepest imprint on one of the most iconic singers and songwriters in music history.

Here’s a look behind three of Parton’s all-time favorite songs.

1. “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” Carter Family (1927)
Writer Unknown

Though the author of this traditional folk ballad is unknown, the origin of the song dates back to the early 20th century (possibly earlier). A reference to it, under the title “Under the Willow Tree,” is listed in the Henry Marvin Belden compilation Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society from 1909.

Though its writer remains uncredited, the folk song has been passed down through generations and reinterpreted by several artists over the decades, including the Carter Family’s version recorded in 1927. (In 1936, the Carter Family also recorded an answer song to it called “Answer to Weeping Willow.”)

During a 2020 interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Parton shared some of her favorite songs and the story of how her mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton (1923-2003), passed down traditional songs to her as a child.

“Mama used to sing all those songs brought over from the old world,” shared Parton. “Mama was a good singer too, and she would just sing a cappella all the time. So many of those songs were sad, and as I say, some of them just ‘plum pitiful.’”

“But there was a song she used to sing called ‘Bury Me Beneath the Willow,'” Parton added. “It was about a girl that was going to get married, and her boyfriend left her at the altar or whatever, so she died, of course. She killed herself, I suppose.”

At that point, Parton began singing some verses, a cappella, from “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” bringing Colbert, who lost his mother Lorna in 2013, to tears.

“Oh, you’re crying?” asked Parton in between lyrics. “I better hush before you cry yourself to death and we can’t finish the show. We used to cry when mama would sing. Mama would cry. We’d cry. Those old songs were just amazing.”

Added Colbert: “Isn’t it funny that sometimes there’s nothing happier than a cry?”

“I think that cleanses your soul,” Parton responded. “I think water’s good to wash it out. That’s what tears are for, I think.”

2. “Sometimes When We Touch,” Dan Hill (1977)
Written by Dan Hill and Barry Mann

A surprising addition to Parton’s list of favorites is the late ’70s soft rock ballad by Canadian singer and songwriter Dan Hill.

“I always loved the song ‘Sometimes When We Touch,'” revealed Parton in a 2022 interview. “It’s an older song, but I just always loved it.”

Hill originally started writing the song when he was 19, after finding it hard to express his feelings to a woman he wanted to be his girlfriend. Featured on his 1977 album Longer Fuse, the song hit No. 1 in Canada and the U.K., and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1985, Tammy Wynette and Mark Gray released their country version of the song, which also peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

Hill finally released an official music video for his hit in 1994.

3. “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones (1980)
Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman

Recorded by George Jones for his album I Am What I Am, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” helped revive his career by the beginning of the 1980s, following his bouts of drug and alcohol addiction and his divorce from Tammy Wynette. Upon its release, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” went straight to No. 1 on the country chart and stayed there for 18 weeks. In 2008, the song was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, the song connected with Jones, who still loved Wynette and continued collaborating with her long after their divorce. It tells the story of a man who, after being left behind by his lover, vows to love her until the day he dies.

Parton called the Jones classic her favorite country song of all time.

“To me, that song is so well written, but it touches every cell in your body, in your heart,” said Parton of the Jones classic. “It’s just like he stopped loving her today, they hung that wreath upon the door. He was never going to stop loving her in his lifetime. He had to die.”

She added: “It is so beautiful and, of course, George Jones is my favorite country singer in the world—always was, always will be. Nobody can tell that story like he did. So to me, that is the country classic of all time.”

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
But he still loved her through it all
Hoping she’d come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single, I love you

Read the story behind “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” HERE.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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