Chart Week: December 10, 1977
Song: “Here You Come Again” – Dolly Parton
Chart Position: #12, 9th week on the chart. Peaked at #3 for two weeks in January, 1978.
This edition features another musician origin story. I really like this one; hope you do, too.
It is a tiny miracle that anyone becomes a recording star. There are, what, thousands of people out there with the same dream? Tens of thousands? You have to put together enough songs to earn gigs, find management, get signed to a recording/distribution contract, record an album, and then fight the hundreds of other new songs and albums that come out each week for the attention of the listening public. If everything lines up perfectly, maybe you have one, minor hit. But to become an artist that is universally known and beloved, and that sticks around for nearly 60 years? That takes a special kind of magic.
Talent isn’t always the determining factor in breaking through. Sometimes a champion must be willing to put their reputation on the line to launch a budding artist towards success.
That’s exactly what happened with Dolly Parton.
Parton moved to Nashville immediately after finishing high school. While quickly finding success as a songwriter, she failed to get interest from record companies as a singer. That is until country superstar Porter Wagoner heard her voice. In 1967 he added her to his weekly TV program and traveling road show. Despite Wagoner’s mentorship, record labels still weren’t willing to give Parton a recording deal. In fact, country legend Chet Atkins, who ran RCA Victor, flat out told Wagoner that Parton “…can not sing. No one is going to want to listen to her.”
Wagoner was persistent and certain that Parton was a star-in-waiting. After several failed efforts to convince Atkins, he came up with a unique offer: sign Parton, and if the label lost money on her, RCA Victor could take those losses out of the royalties owed to Wagoner.
Seeing little risk, Atkins gave in. That was a smart move. The company made a profit off of Parton’s music in year one. Since many of her earliest hits were duets with Wagoner, he made out ok as well.
1977 was the year that Parton became a cross-over superstar. She had her own nationally syndicated variety show. I remember it well since it aired on the TV station my mom worked at in Cape Girardeau, MO. Here You Come Again album topped the country album chart and peaked at number 20 on the pop chart. The title track, a wonderful song that still charms me, made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1980 she starred in and sang the theme for the movie 9 to 5. A couple years later, she and Kenny Rogers hit #1 on the pop chart with their duet “Islands in the Stream.” In 1992, Whitney Houston covered Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” and turned it into one of the biggest selling singles in the history of music. Somewhere in that run Dolly became an absolute American treasure.
Whether you like country music in general, or her music in particular, it’s impossible to deny her infectious, force of nature personality. She’s broken ground for women in the music industry in countless ways. She’s been outspoken without being churlish or divisive. She’s used her name and money to do a ton of good for people who need help. As I type this I realize as big of a star as Dolly is, she probably has never got the proper amount of credit for her impact on both the music world and the real world.
It was Dolly’s talent and immense drive that turned her into a star. But it was Porter Wagoner’s persistence and support that helped make it possible.
I currently have one more in the queue to get to early next year. ↩