Dolly Parton has over 5,000 songs. While many of the Queen of Country‘s songs are world-renowned, there are several that never even made it on the radio. The reason? They were too controversial for their time. Parton says that one of the best songs she’s ever written was barred from radio play. Here’s the song and why it wasn’t allowed on the air.
Dolly Parton was inspired by the women she grew up around
Parton grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Especially in her early work, she wrote a lot of songs about women losing children. Parton doesn’t have any children herself, but she was hugely inspired by the women she grew up around.
“I never lost a baby,” Parton told journalist Jad Abumrad on the podcast, Dolly Parton’s America. “I’ve never been pregnant in my life. But I’ve seen a lot of people that have, and have had to go through that. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the — you know, like I always say, there’s two kinds of women in the mountains: the kind that get married and have a lot of kids and the kind that stay single and have a lot of kids.”
In addition to being inspired by the stories of the women she grew up around, Parton has also always felt a pull to tell the stories she felt people needed to hear.
“I would also write things about people’s lives and topics that I knew that mattered,” she said. “I was writing about abortion, I was writing about adoption. I was writing about all sorts of things back before it was [widely acceptable].”
‘Down From Dover’
Parton says one of the best songs she’s ever written, “Down From Dover,” wasn’t allowed on the radio because of the content of the song.
“Down From Dover” is about a teenager who becomes pregnant and tries to conceal her pregnancy while she waits for her love to return. If he comes back for her before her community finds out she’s pregnant, she won’t be ostracized. But he doesn’t and her family kicks her out. He never returns for her and the baby dies.
“She felt like God had done her a favor,” explained Parton. “God had taken the baby back. In my mind, the baby was better off back with God than it would have been with me. And they wouldn’t play it on the radio back at that time. It’s one of my best songs ever.”
“They wouldn’t play it on the radio, not because the kid died, but because she got pregnant,” she continued. “Because she — it was an illegitimate [pregnancy].”
Parton went on to say that she wrote “Down From Dover” in the “early days of my career.” She wanted to put it out as a single but her record label, RCA, wouldn’t let her.
Dolly Parton ‘refuse[s] to be judged’ for the content of her songs
Dolly Parton is a storyteller to her core. In the early days of her career, when she produced most of her more heartbreaking, controversial work, she simply “wanted to write great stories.”
“I wrote a lot of songs that people wouldn’t play on the radio, but I didn’t care,” she wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “It bothered me at the time, but I never thought, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ Whatever I write is just what comes out of me, and I refuse to be judged.”