Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dolly Parton - 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs

Happy sixty-sixth birthday today (January 19th) to American country singer-songwriter and actress Dolly Parton.

In late December of 1980, Dolly starred along side Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman in the office-comedy film 9 To 5. The film had a big opening weekend at the time and has since gone on to make the list of the 20 Highest Grossing Comedy Films.

That same month, Dolly released the album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, a concept album with songs focused on working. With a mix of pop and country arrangement, the record earned positive comments. The album reached number 1 on the US Country charts, number 11 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 36 on the Canadian Country charts, and number 15 on the general Canadian music charts.

Side one opens with the female-empowered theme song from the film. “9 to 5” was a number 1 smash hit, topping the US Country and Adult Contemporary charts as well as the Canadian charts. It also spent two non-consecutive weeks at the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 in February of 1981. It also won Dolly the Grammy awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance Female. I had the 45 for this song back in 1980; I’ve always enjoyed the infectious rhythm that comes from, in part, the clacking of the electric typewriter.

For the next track, “Hush-A-Bye Hard Times”, Dolly goes back to her Tennessee country roots. The song has an up-tempo beat even though the lyrics paint the portrait of a family facing hard economic times.

“House of the Rising Sun” was a traditional US folk song about making a living in sinful ways in New Orleans. The Animals had the most successful recording of this song in 1964. Dolly’s cover of this classic tweaks the lyrics a bit and delivers it with a rocking, dance beat. Her touches seemed to work for the song which went to number 14 on the US Country singles chart, number 77 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 30 on the US Adult Contemporary charts. I like her take on the song; it has steam-heat, funky guitars and a driving beat.

Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” as a protest song about a plane crash near Los Gatos Canyon in January 1948 where thirty-two people were killed (four Americans and twenty-eight migrant farm workers from Mexico). Dolly’s cover is one of many versions done over the decades; as a single it went to number 14 on the US Country charts and number 77 on the US Billboard Hot 100. I like the simple piano accompaniment on this one, setting a somber tone for the tragic tale.

“Sing for the Common Man” is a mid-tempo ode to the hard working people who are the backbone of the country.

Side two begins with “Working Girl”, a rocking track with that celebrates women who balance career and family. This Dolly penned track brings to focus that change in the work force. Remember this was the beginning of the 80’s when more women were taking prominent positions in business.

“Detroit City” was a song originally recorded in 1963 by country musician Bobby Bare. Once again, Dolly puts her own touches on this classic.

The gentle ballad “But You Know I Love You” was first recorded by the First Edition in 1969, the group that included Mike Settle and Kenny Rogers. Dolly’s version of the song reached the number 1 spot on the US Country charts, number 14 on the US Adult Contemporary charts, and number 41 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Dolly does another cover next, this time “Dark as a Dungeon” which was written by Merle Travis. The lyrics tell of the back-breaking work of a coal miner.

“Poor Folks’ Town”, a Dolly written track, closes out the record. It is a song about living on love even when the family barely is getting by.

Although the songs share a common theme, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs is not repetitive. The music is varied with a mix of original songs and covers. Dolly Parton handles them all with the seasoned skills of a veteran in the business.

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