Coat of Many Colors
Listen to the bell-clear sweetness of 1971’s Coat of Many Colors and you might mistake Dolly Parton for simple. And in important ways, she was: Few artists have rendered optimism with such clarity and heart. Even in the bleakest of scenes, she managed to find beauty—the warmth of the sun flooding a lonely woman’s room (“My Blue Tears”), the look of a mother’s face when she feels like she has nothing left (“If I Lose My Mind”). In another artist’s hands, a story of poverty as stark as the title track might sound bitter or barbed. But in Parton’s, it becomes a parable for the lesson that you can’t always control the circumstances of your life, but you can control whether those circumstances make you a victim.
Suddenly, that sweetness seems less like naivete than the strength of someone who has come through hardship with her resolve—and smile—intact. No wonder she became an icon for feminists, immigrants, the LGTBQ community, and anyone else who had to fight for their right to be: Behind each song here is a sense of pride and self-love so radiant that, in listening, your own problems—or the problems you imagine you have—melt away into gratitude. Parton had always had a tender streak. But with Coat of Many Colors, she stepped away from what she later called the “sad-ass songs” of her early career, moving toward music that celebrated our very human potential to find grace in darkness and joy in life as it is. Or as she put it on the album’s exultant, penultimate track, “Here I am! Oh, here I am! Here I am!”