Behind The Song: “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton in a scene from the 1980 comedy 9 to 5. The film's theme song, performed by Parton, took on a life of its own

Dolly Parton has always been a straight shooter, and she’ll tell you that too. One such defining example of this country icon’s genuine spirit can be found in her work for hit movie and song “9 to 5.”

Before the 1980 comedy 9 to 5 premiered, Dolly Parton was recruited for the film by American actress Jane Fonda. When Fonda first approached her, Parton responded, “Well, this is a good opportunity, but I’ll only do it if I can write the theme song.”

So on the set of the movie, Parton pieced together “9 to 5.” In a 2019 interview with Jimmy Fallon, Parton explained the genius behind the typewriter sounds on the track: “When I actually wrote this song, I actually had — I used my acrylic nails on the set when I was writing it. [laughter] I did, because they make noise, and it sounded like a typewriter to me.”

“9 to 5” was then released a month before its filmic counterpart, and sat as the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart a year later in 1981. In 2017 the song went platinum. Overall, there is no denying Parton’s success with “9 to 5.”

In addition to the unique sound and uplifting beats, “9 to 5” also boasts a more meaningful legacy for working women. Parton’s song and the film 9 to 5 are both inspired by the women’s activist organization named 9to5

Later known as the National Association of Working Women, 9to5 was founded in 1973 by “women [who] decided enough was enough. They felt feisty, empowered and fed up. They decided to fight for fair pay and equal treatment. They started 9to5 and inspired the hit movie and song.”

Regarding the song they inspired, co-founder of 9to5 Karen Nussbaum said, “I think the song is brilliant. It starts with pride: ‘Pour myself a cup of ambition.’ It goes to grievances: ‘Barely getting by.’ It then goes to class conflict: ‘You’re just a step on the bossman’s ladder.’ And then it ends with collective power: ‘In the same boat with a lot of your friends.’ So in the space of this wildly popular song with a great beat, Dolly Parton just puts it all together by herself.”

“9 to 5” became an anthem for working women, uniting women together under one battle cry for fair working conditions. 

And 40 years later, women are still leaning into Parton’s lyrics. New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister commented “9 to 5” is “simultaneously a song of angry complaint and immense good cheer. And there is something about that combination that makes it kind of addictive and fun.”

So the next time you need to blow off some steam after work, looking for some inspiration or simply want to acknowledge the country powerhouse that is Dolly Parton, give “9 to 5” a listen. 

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