Since her debut more than 50 years ago, Dolly Parton has become one of the world’s most recognizable entertainers and cemented her reputation as one of popular music’s most successful songwriters. But in the mid-Seventies, when she walked away from a lucrative partnership with Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner to roll the dice on a solo career she hoped would pay off with country and pop-music audiences, Parton risked alienating both.
Thanks to a few buzz-worthy appearances on The Tonight Show where she flirtatiously charmed Johnny Carson — and the nation — with her self-deprecating wit and down-home wisdom, Parton was enjoying greater visibility and preparing fans for the two LPs she would release in 1977. The first, aptly titled New Harvest — First Gathering, was the Tennessee native’s first to be recorded outside Nashville and contained the prophetic Top 15 country hit “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” — the LP’s only single release. Far from being the crossover hit she had hoped, the album was still a critical success. It also includes a version of what continues to be one of the most popular songs in Parton’s live shows, the banjo-centric story of “Applejack.”
Undeterred, Parton upped the ante with her next release, which hit stores just eight months later. Here You Come Again was a rarity in that only four songs on it were penned by the artist herself. By contrast, her two previous LPs contained a total of four songs she didn’t write. The album’s title track and first single was a product of married couple Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, two of pop music’s most successful tunesmiths. Parton’s producer Gary Klein had heard it on a recently released B.J. Thomas album, but Parton was initially reluctant to cut the tune. Her worst fears — that her established fan base would accuse her of abandoning them for pop stardom — seemed realized when she heard the slick final mix.
In an effort to appease Parton, producer Klein hired the legendary Al Perkins to add steel guitar to the track. The gambit paid off as “Here You Come Again” began the first of five weeks at Number One on Billboard‘s country chart on December 3rd, 1977, and rose to Number Three on Billboard‘s Hot 100.
Parton’s pop career was finally off and running as the Here You Come Again LP became her first platinum LP, with the title track earning her a Grammy and her first million-selling single. Perhaps even more satisfying was her country peers’ validation of her mainstream success. In the spring of 1978, Parton was named ACM Entertainer of the Year. Before the year was out, she earned the same honor from Nashville’s Country Music Association.
The song’s popularity also afforded Parton the opportunity to appear on such mainstream TV series as the Midnight Special, as in the above clip. Hosting and performing on the episode, which aired in late September 1978 and reran several times over the next few years, allowed the now-iconic entertainer’s undeniable charisma to shine through, giving detractors the chance to learn, as she still so often points out, that there is much more to her than the blonde wigs, heavy makeup and. . .sizeable assets.
Less than two years later, Dolly Parton was a movie star, an Oscar nominee for Best Original Song, and had impressively topped the country, pop and adult contemporary charts with the self-penned smash “9 to 5.” On December 10th, Parton will return to the screen — at least as an inspiration — with the autobiographical NBC TV-movie Coat of Many Colors.