Hello, I’m Dolly holds a special place in music history simply because it’s the first album from country legend Dolly Parton. The album marked Parton’s entrance into the country genre, moving away from (of all things) a career in bubblegum pop. This album is largely credited for thrusting Parton into the country music spotlight and, importantly, catching the attention of Porter Waggoner, whose weekly television show Parton regularly appeared on. Hello, I’m Dolly peaked at #11 on the country charts while lead singles “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy” cracked the top twenty.
Parton released Hello, I’m Dolly on February 13, 1967 and you can certainly tell. The album doesn’t sound dated, per se. Dated implies that it’s out of style and out of fashion, whereas some of these songs hold up wonderfully today. Instead, the album sounds timely. You can tell that this was a mainstream country album made in the late 1960s/early 1970s because it sounds like every mainstream country album made in the late 1960s/early 1970s, with plaintive twangs, occasional choral backing, and songs under three minutes. It’s the sheer talent of Parton’s songwriting and singing abilities that help pull this album away from the potential cheese that’s occasionally found in the sheer late 1960s/early 1970s nature of the album, especially in songs like “I’ve Lived My Life.”
The majority of the album consists of songs with the same message: my man has done me wrong somehow and that makes me sad or angry. That’s to be expected. When you think classic Dolly Parton, you think of classic love songs (“Islands in the Stream”) but you also think of things like “Jolene”, a song all about this potential sadness in a relationship. Heck, even “I Will Always Love You” is a love song with this inherent sadness. What’s interesting is that Parton takes the overall theme and twists it in a different way: “Something Fishy” is Parton decided that her husband is cheating, “The Little Things” is about Parton feeling neglected, “Your Ole Handy Man” is Parton telling her man to get off his ass and do some chores. These (and other) songs sit comfortably on the album together, taking something that could be monotonous and twisting it into new, fun, and different directions.
With Hello, I’m Dolly, Dolly Parton is establishing her image right off the bat. Parton has always been firmly in control of her image and the specific ideas she wants to put forth via clothes, hair, and décolletage. To paraphrase her, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Her image is of a cheap blonde that she wittily subverts through song lyrics. The opening track, “Dumb Blonde,” is probably the first time she embraces this image almost instantly to subvert it. Parton pushes back against some stereotypes of blondes (the dumb blonde) while pushing forward other ones (blondes have more fun). But throughout the song, she unequivocally links herself to the concept of blondness. It’s a simple, easy, fun little song but it shows that Parton already is creating an image and working hard to maintain it. And, unsurprisingly, it was her first big hit on the country charts.
Another example of Parton establishing and playing with her image is the delightfully wicked “I Don’t Want To Throw Rice.” Because for every “I Will Always Love You”, there’s “PMS Blues,” a song where Parton takes the lyrics and relishes in the fun she’s having. “I Don’t Want To Throw Rice” hits all the tropes of these sad sort of “this woman stole my man and now I’m sad” songs. But once the chorus comes, it reveals it’s hilariously mean true colors as Parton croons, “Cause I don’t want to throw rice / I want to throw rocks at her.” The song stays the same, nothing about her style of delivery changes as Parton hides these hilariously violent lyrics behind angelic harmonies. You can tell that when she’s singing this in concerts, it’s with a wicked grin on her face.
Hello, I’m Dolly does suffer from some first installment weirdness. Some the songs sound far too similar and there’s very few star songs on the album. But a weird first installment in the line of Dolly Parton albums doesn’t change the fact that it’s a Dolly Parton album in the first place. Hello, I’m Dolly is a stunning debut and it’s easy to see just how it catapulted Parton to country stardom.