After her pervious album Dolly, Dolly, Dolly failed to fall in the good graces of her fans, Parton returned later that year with an album displaying what she does best – recording a mix of self-penned material and well-chosen covers. Heralded as a concept album about work, 9 to 5 is a companion piece to the movie of the same name in which Parton made her acting debut.
When the title track was released as a single in November of 1980, the trademark fusion of piano and horns meshed together to create one of country music’s campiest records. I’ve always enjoyed the individuality of this song, when it comes on the radio it’s unmistakable. And what amazes me, is the song doesn’t sound dated. The production is as timeless today (more than 30 years later) as the theme of getting your butt out of bed to work an eight-hour day. It’s also among my favorites of Parton’s singles because it dared to be different. Like “On The Other Hand” and “Any Man of Mine,” it reinvented the notion of what a country song could be. (How often do you hear a typewriter on recorded music?) While it didn’t change the course of country music like the Travis and Twain singles, it added to the lineage of working people songs and employed the woman’s point of view for a change. The men have Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It,” while the workingwomen’s anthem is “9 To 5.”
Parton garnered two Grammy Awards for “9 to 5” in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song categories. She would also be nominated for her first Oscar, losing to the title song from “Fame.” The album would eventually be certified gold for shipments of 500,000 copies. In another feat, “9 to 5” would mark only the second time a female country artist would top the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot 100 charts with the same single. (The first was Jeannie C. Riley and “Harper Valley PTA”).
Listening to the album, the title track plus “Sing for the Common Man,” “Working Girl,” and “Poor Folks Town” all fit the “working” theme but I’d hardly regard this as a concept album. Instead, it’s an above average pop/country fusion that leaned heavily on the pop influences. Unlike the pop-country of today however, producer Mike Post smartly kept the production soft so the listener could appreciate the lyrical content of the tracks. I have nothing wrong with pop-leaning country music as long as its good, and 9 to 5 is just that.
Post leaned heavy on muscular guitars to give the album a more rock feel and it works. Gone are the soft string-filled arrangements from the 1970s that almost put the listener to sleep, and in its place is a livelier sound that works with Parton’s voice, and her personality as well. Tracks such as “Hush A-Bye Hard Times,” “The House of the Rising Sun” (a #14 peaking single for Parton), “Working Girl” and “Poor Folks Town” all fit this theme perfectly. The varying degree of rock production on these tracks command the listener’s attention, but “Sun” could’ve done without the gospel choir. It was interesting to hear that song with such full production as I’m used to more intimate renditions, especially from American Idol contestants. I kept thinking classic Abba when listening to that track, which may or may not be a good thing on an album from a country singer, but since I generally like the 70s Swedish group, it didn’t bother me.
As for the ballads, my favorite track on the album was also the most perplexing. The inclusion of “Dark as a Dungeon,” Merle Travis’s masterpiece about working in the mines, didn’t sit well with me in terms of placement. The only way I can justify its inclusion is it fits the working theme in that there are people who make their living working in mines. But such a dark song didn’t seem right on such a sunny album. But as a recorded track, “Dungeon” is the closest thing to hinting at Parton’s country roots on the whole album, and the light production suits her voice and is a welcome reminder that Parton is still a country girl at heart.
The other standout ballad, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” hints at the influence Emmylou Harris had on the genre at the time. To me, it sounds just like a cover tune she would’ve placed on any of her 70s masterpieces, and acts almost as a foreshadowing of the two working together on the Trio projects. The mix of light piano and acoustic guitar complements Parton’s vocals perfectly and proves that less is often so much more.
Other tracks “But You Know I love You” (another #1 country hit) and “Detroit City” are also very good with “Love You” being my favorite of the two. I honestly don’t have much familiarity with the latter, the Mel Tillis penned, Bobby Bare classic, so I have nothing to compare it to, but Parton does an okay job with a song I believe is usually done more understated. It’s an example of where the rock arraignment fell short. The heavy guitars didn’t fit the song.
Overall, 9 To 5 and Odd Jobs is a very solid album from Parton. She sings the fire out of the songs and proved to me why she belongs as one of country music’s greatest female singers. I thought a couple of the tracks ended too quickly, but this was back then when two-minute songs were still popular. This time around, there’s nothing offensive about the song choices, lyrical content, or production. If you only know the title track, I would urge you to go ahead and pick up the album. It’s well worth the listen but skip the bonus tracks in the 2009 reissue. “Everyday People” is a bit too loud and brash in comparison to the rest of the project, and the two remixes of the title track are pointless drivel in comparison to the original. These three additions are not worth the download, if you don’t already have them.
9 to 5 and Odd Jobs is readily available from Amazon in both hard copy and download form, and on iTunes.